Peter Cottontail, as he perennially goes “hoppin’ down the bunny trail,” has a strong celebrity rival for the affections of children everywhere in the furry, good-hearted Hoppi, the lovable, selfless bunny in Jan Brett’s The Easter Egg.
Pair Jan’s woodsy, soft-hued, detailed illustrations with the challenge and choice Hoppi faces as he attempts to come up with the most beautiful Easter egg, and you can’t miss this treasure of a tale. Add the proviso—the winner of the contest sponsored by the Easter Rabbit will accompany him as he hides eggs on Easter morning—and you have what I feel is a new classic Easter story!
Surrounding the author’s narrative picture book text is the exquisite border art detail, a signature technique in many of Jan’s titles, and it is done to charming and rich effect. The theme of spring awakening is echoed in the plethora of flowers intertwined in the surrounds of each page. They include trout lilies, jack-in-the-pulpits, Virginia bluebells, phlox, cowslips, bluets, violets and pussy willows. Keep a watchful eye on the slow and gradual metamorphoses of the pussy willows; the transformation is both magical and whimsical.
Shakespeare in his day held the mirror up to nature in words to grand effect, while Jan holds it up using live rabbits as models for the characters in her tale. Their story names are, in addition to Hoppi, Flora Bunny, Aunt Sassyfrass, Hans Vanderabbit and Roberto. Their real life counterparts are Lefty, Righty, Tikki, Nibbles, Traffic, and Crystal. Hoppi, our blue-jacketed hero, is so real and softly drawn, children will want to reach out and stroke his glossy fur!
Santa may have reindeer named Prancer, Dasher, Dancer, et al to pull HIS sleigh on Christmas Eve, but did Clement Clarke Moore have live reindeer as models for his eightsome? The Easter Rabbit, in his regal wooden cart as envisioned by Jan, is pulled by Buff Cochin hens with richly embroidered purple harnesses, and his transport is bowered by hoops of greenery festooned with gaily decorated eggs. They, like the bunnies in the story, were drawn from live model pullets! My favorite character, aside from Hoppi of course, is the Easter Rabbit; I love his coat, a combination of white fur with a weave of complex golden rope trim. Been looking for one like it for years. I fell for the little acorn trim and the large side compass with his book of delivery names on a golden chain. Even the Easter Rabbit knows how to accessorize with style and flair!
Combining compelling storytelling with rich artistry that drives and enhances the narrative is a gift Jan displays to marvelous effect in The Easter Egg. It is a running joke in our family that while my writing skills are decent, I can’t draw stick people! Seeing this talent I so admire displayed again and again in her books is a rare treat for children and an artistic double delight for parents too, as both can pore over the incredible detail on each page together. Get the whole family to pick out their favorite small points that make this new classic Easter favorite come freshly and winningly alive.
And speaking of winning, as Hoppi strives to find his talent and artistic niche among the incredibly gifted and creative contenders in the contest, he nobly doesn’t take a page from the playbook of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, who famously said, and I paraphrase, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” It has become a model mantra for fierce competitors. To his lasting credit, I do believe Mr. Lombardi amended its interpretation in later years to mean a total commitment and giving of self for a greater goal each and every time one faces difficult challenges and not the original literal meaning. As a side note, Vince Lombardi taught Latin and chemistry and coached at my high school early in his career, and yes, we had a winning football and basketball team. He taught himself how to coach basketball from a book! Lifelong learning and reading seems essential—even in sports, kids.
In our culture’s drive to foster excellence, a worthy goal, the mixed message seems to be given that anything less than winning THE prize is failure. What a message to be sending our children if life is a reaching and striving process of lessons and anything less than perfection is dross! Even Hoppi’s rabbit competitors have their priorities straight as he visits each for advice on his egg. Down to a rabbit, they are happy to share something of themselves to help him achieve an equal chance of winning, be it some advice or a tangible part of their own creations.
Hoppi chooses to forget about the competition, opting for compassion as he aids a helpless mother robin whose soft blue-shelled egg has dropped from its nest. Will Hoppi’s selfless choice to spend his days and nights protecting the egg from weather and predators with his warmth cost him the prize he so dearly wants? I love this small rabbit’s point of view as he states with more than a mite of mature insight, “I guess I don’t have to win. I just want an egg I am proud of.” Take a wise and wonderful trip to the forest with Hoppi and see if and what he wins and learns.
What do we want our children to learn from competing? Competition seems to be a part of our culture, but against whom and for what? There are some powerful life lessons to be learned here. And it is true that to the swiftest, smartest and most popular, the prize does go many a time, but surely that’s not the only life lesson to be gained. Is selflessness and compassion passé? Not for Hoppi, thank goodness!
April, as it ushers in spring, is also National Poetry Month, and as the poet Robert Frost once penned to great import and interpretation in “The Road Not Taken”:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Bravo, Hoppi! Brava, Jan! Messrs. Lombardi and Frost would have been proud of you both! Happy Easter to all!
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