Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Hare-Raising Episode

Reflecting on the power of creativity, the imagination, oral and written storytelling, the only two words more compelling than "once upon a time" are "what if".  For authors and illustrators who dare to extend their thinking, the results for readers and listeners have been phenomenal.  They have made us gasp in surprise, taken us to the edge in fear, broken our hearts, healed our hearts and made us laugh ourselves silly.  Most important of all, the best of these are favorites, not for the moment but for years.

Back in June, Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast interviewed Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett and Matthew Myers about a collaboration of theirs to be released in the fall of 2013.  Needless to say, this post revealed the process for and the creation of a book destined to be gleefully enjoyed by children (and adults) of any age.  One week ago an article was posted on the Publishers Weekly website, Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and Matthew Myers 'Battle' It Out in New Picture Book with all three individuals talking about their work on this title.  At this point (even though I had seen an ARC at a bookseller's shop), I could hardly wait to get the finished book in my hands.  Battle Bunny (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is definitely not what Gran Gran intended as a gift.

Bunny woke up from a night of pleasant 
dreams.  Today is a very special day, he thought.
Today is my birthday.  Today, I am not just a bunny.
I am the Birthday Bunny.

For his birthday, Alexander, Alex, has received, what I would consider the very best kind of present from his grandmother, a book.  Before the narrative even begins, it's obvious Alex's taste in literature does not run parallel to his grandmother's idea of a good story.  Oh, no sirree, Alex has decided this tale will not be filled with sweetness and light but of a raving rabbit on the rampage.  With writing implement in hand, he crosses out, adds words, and doodles all over the pages.  Ta-dah!  A new book is born.

Yes, Battle Bunny, will begin his birthday with a scrumptious breakfast of brain juice and a bowl of greasy guts.  Fortified he sets off into the forest to chop down as many trees as possible on his path to world domination.  First to confront him is Crow who is easily dispatched with a solid swing sending him beyond the clouds in the sky.

It's interesting at this point to note a new character has been added.  His name is none other than Alex; perhaps a superhero of sorts, wearing a capital A on his shirt.  He has just completed a person to person call to the President of the United States.

Badger goes down with a swift kick.  Squirrel's feisty bees are no match for the blistering buzz of Battle Bunny's chain saw.  Alex's second call to the president is rebuffed; after all he is only a boy.

Martial artists fail leaving the horrendous hare free to wreck havoc on mountains and national treasures.  Will the President of the United States change his mind?  Can this madness be stopped?  This is one birthday fated for the annuals of history.

One can only guess as to the boisterous brainstorming between Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett as they drafted and wrote both these stories, the gentle, sweet but predictable Birthday Bunny followed by the maniacal mayhem of Battle Bunny.  Every textual change is a reflection of minds given free rein, to enjoy childhood.  It's like Saturday morning cartoons on the printed page.  The word play is straight from the mind of a nefarious villain, a would-be hero and a world leader in need of saving.  Here are a couple of examples. (These represent the text as re-written.)

"That is so false!" said Battle Bunny. Because
today I am going to whomp on you, birdbrain,
and pluck you like a sick chicken!

Sgt. Squirrel smiled.  "Today is a special day because I
have robot killer bees in my tree and now I am
ready to sting your butt and save the forest!!

Illustrator Matthew Myers jumps into the comic chaos with both feet by altering the front and back cover (and spine) expertly; even the tiny bunnies along the top edge of the back look ready to fight.  Opening and closing endpapers, two-tone cream with darker carrots in rows, are identical except for the back, featuring a disgruntled hand-drawn Battle Bunny striding away.  The title pages and verso with kid-like doodles galore will garner a captive audience.  Little changes like Book design by Dan Potash, a hand drawn pot followed by pot of ash, being included or adding letters to balloons to read, See what happens to bunnies on doomsday.  

Full-color illustrations rendered in oils and pencil provide the superb contrast to the dark drawings.  Some of the pictures are full page, two are double page, edge to edge.  Most are circular in shape allowing for plenty of room to showcase the modified tale.  His characters and their actions are so lively you feel as if you might have to close the book to keep them from jumping off the page.  I have to say the first illustration where I laughed out loud was of Battle Bunny sitting at the breakfast table, looking ready to change the world (in his favor), skull and crossbones drawn on his sippy cup, sporting an eye patch, scarred ear, guts coming from his cereal bowl, an arrow shot into the Hole Sweet Hole sampler on the wall and the world MAY end soon on the calendar.

Get ready to buzz, boom, and trounce your way through the pages of  Battle Bunny written by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett and Alex with illustrations by Matthew Myers and Alex. Action-packed adventure is an understatement as this bunny is bent on destruction of the highest order.  Your imagination will be ready to run as wild as this rabbit's antics. Guaranteed.  I would plan on getting extra copies.  And cake might be a good idea too.

I invite you to check out the author and illustrator websites by following the links embedded in their names above. A special website for Battle Bunny has been created allowing users to download one or all of the pages of this title, so they make their own changes to the original story.  Submitted alterations are being posted at the site.  A curriculum guide is in place for educators.    

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