This year at Easter, I discovered one of the most memorable children’s books I’ve ever read. The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by DuBose Heyward is the story of how Easter bunnies are selected and how one unassuming female bunny surprised everyone by earning the honor of becoming an Easter bunny. With charming illustrations by Marjorie Flack, the story offers a leading character who proves herself worthy of the honor by demonstrating her wisdom, kindness, and speed in ways no one expected. And along the way she proves that worthiness and value are not determined by color, gender, or station in life.
As the story opens, the big white bunnies who live in fancy houses and the long-legged Jack Rabbits laugh at the little brown country bunny who thinks she can be an Easter bunny. Time passes, and the little brown bunny gets married and soon has 21 baby bunnies to care for. When the baby bunnies are old enough to assume some responsibility, the little brown bunny teaches each of them to do a specific chore. Two clean the house, two cook meals, two wash dishes, two do laundry, two tend the garden, and so on until they all have a job.
Then one day the kind old grandfather bunny sends out the word that he must select a new Easter bunny, and all the bunnies gather at the Palace of Easter Eggs to vie for the position or to watch the competition. When the little brown bunny has her chance to speak, she tells grandfather bunny how her children are so well trained they do most of the housework. He says she must be wise to have taught them so well and kind because they are so happy, but it’s too bad she never had time to run and grow swift. At that, she whispers to her children, and all of them race away in different directions. She dashes after them and in no time has them all lined up back in front of the Palace. Grandfather bunny recognizes her many talents and makes her his fifth Easter bunny. But as an Easter bunny, she still has one more challenge to fulfill.
Such a powerful feminist story would seem to have been written recently, perhaps in the 1970s or in the decades since. No, The Country Bunny was originally written in 1939. To me, the book is a reminder that ideals of female equality, racial equality, and class equality are not new, but the battle to make them a reality is never-ending. I thought about that challenge when I wrote my novel Surface and Shadow. The novel explores oppression of women and others in the 1970s, but its themes are just as relevant today.
Our best hope for the future is to teach our children not to judge people by characteristics such as gender, race, economic circumstances, or sexual orientation. The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes can help us do that.
Surface and Shadow will be published by Pen-L Publishing in 2016.