Friday, April 10, 2009

Lessons Learned from The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold ShoesThe Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by DuBose Heyward is a classic with its vintage pictures but that's only half of the reason I love this story (as proof you can see that I have the same well-loved copy I had when I was a child).

To me it's the ultimate in true feminist literature.

I'm aware that that's a bold statement to make but if you aren't familiar with the story let me give you a basic outline. It tells of the Easter Bunny--or more correctly the Easter Bunnies (there are more than one)--who each year deliver the eggs to the children of the world. A young little girl bunny dreams of growing up to become one of these chosen bunnies but gets married and has a family as only a rabbit can (21 babies) and her plans have to be set aside when life takes over.

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold ShoesBut despite what you think might be a minor set back she performs her duties as a mother with such skill and care that her 21 children are resourceful, independent, helpful and kind.

One day the proclamation goes out that one of the Easter Bunnies has to retire and it's time to pick a new Easter Bunny to take his place. The mother bunny takes her 21 children to the festival to see the tryouts and gains the attention of the Old Wise Kind Head Easter Bunny (because, after all, she's at a party with 21 children. And I feel as if people stare at me with only my four!)

As the Old Wise Kind Head Easter Bunny is exactly that--wise and old and kind--he soon sees that the mother bunny has exactly the qualities he's looking for and surprises everyone by appointing her to fill the vacancy.

The story then takes a slight detour into the adventure the little mother bunny has in performing her duties as an Official Easter Bunny and demonstrates in the process courage, determination and all those good virtues that a proper children's story should exhibit but after the night's work is finished she quietly takes her own little basket of goodies and heads home to her family.

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold ShoesSo how on earth did I find feminism in a 1939 children's book written by a man? I'm glad you asked. May I quote?

One day a little country girl bunny with brown skin and a little cotton-ball of a tail said, "Some day I shall grow up to be an Easter Bunny: --you wait and see!"

Then all of the big white bunnies who lived in fine houses, and the Jack Rabbits with long legs who can run so fast, laughed at the little Cottontail and told her to go back to the country and eat a carrot. But she said, "Wait and see!"

The little girl Cottontail grew up to be a young lady Cottontail. And by and by she had a husband and then one day, much to her surprise there were twenty-one Cottontail babies to take care of.

Then the big white rabbits and the Jacks with long legs laughed and laughed, and they said, "What did we tell you!' One a country rabbit would go and have all those babies. Now take care of them and leave Easter eggs to great big men bunnies like us." And they went away liking themselves very much.
I find it marvelous that DuBose Heyward could write something 70 years ago that speaks to me so clearly. I find it rather inspiring (if that's not a ridiculous word to use in connection with a children's picture book about a rabbit) how the little Cottontail takes her motherhood duties so seriously and does them so well.
Then to two of them she gave little brooms and showed them how to sweep out the cottage, and two she taught how to make beds. Two more went with her to the kitchen, and in no time at all had found out how to cook a good dinner. And with these went the two little dish-washers, and they made the glasses shine like crystal . . .
I can picture Heyward (the writer behind Porgy and Bess by the way) telling this story to his daughter Jennifer with all the tenderness of a parent's love. Here's what I've learned after the approximately 159 readings of this book:
  • Suddenly you look up one day and have all these children--and may not be entirely sure how it all happened so fast.

  • Moms have dreams too and not only is it okay to have interests outside of your children it's a healthy thing that usually makes you a better mom if you don't let it take over your real job.

  • There is a time and a season for everything.

  • Be patient, you won't always have babies and small children around. The time does pass . . . eventually . . . though usually faster than you anticipate.

  • Be careful who you laugh at because you could one day end up eating their dust.

  • Having a large family hardly means one is irresponsible. It can be a great blessing.

  • Motherhood takes amazing skill to be done properly but it can be done.

  • Motherhood isn't about doing everything for your children but teaching them how to do it for themselves.

  • Let your children take a chance by doing something on their own without you hovering over them. Give them a chance to prove themselves--even if it means walking away while they struggle a bit.

  • Children should be well behaved in public (as well as in private).

  • Motherhood, while eternal, won't always require the same things of me as it does now--it will change as I do.

  • Teaching is more effective when accompanied by example rather than lecture.

  • Work with your children's natural abilities and talents.

  • Children work well with buddies to help them get things done. Positive peer pressure and all that.

  • If you're feeling like you're doing all the household work don't yell at your husband, instead put your kids to work. After all, it's their laundry too and they're more capable than you think.

  • The aesthetics in a home are as important as the food being on the table and the arts make the work more enjoyable.

  • A clean home can be managed with a large family.

  • Motherhood isn't all about chasing children (though it helps to be in good shape).

  • Sometimes you have to work all night to get the job done.

  • Sometimes you don't sleep at all.

  • There are plenty of people who value motherhood so don't undersell your talents or abilities or think you're alone.

  • Women can do most things just as well as men though usually in their own unique way.

  • A mother's influence often goes beyond the boundaries of her own home.

  • It's important to remember where your heart should be. Hurry home.

  • And a woman can do anything with a great pair of shoes on her feet.
Of course all this is lost on my children. They just like the story and the whole Easter Bunny angle.

Happy Easter to all of you, I hope your weekend is wonderful!

Sponsored by Greetings of Grace where you can find beautiful pressed flowers.

36 comments:

charrette said...

What a wonderful post! I remember that book. I think my mother read it to me. Maybe it even shaped who I am, just a little...(hopefully). Love your insights.

Scribbit said...

Wow you're fast! I just got this up before heading to bed (I should be in bed already but with Andrew gone I'm bad about being responsible :)

Glad you liked it, thanks!

Anonymous said...

WOW! This post really tugs at my soul. Meaningful and a delight to read. TY for sharing! Oh - and thank u for reminding us that motherhood IS the real job ... :-)

chelle said...

Ok seriously what an amazing message!! Love it. Especially being a stay at home mom with dreams of my own.

One Mom said...

Just goes to show you there can be very adult messages in children's literature! I hope little ears are listening...

And that it takes 21 "others" to fill in and do what Mom does all by herself!

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Very cool book and even better insights. Though not nearly as poignant, I also love the "feminist" children's book, "The Paper Bag Princess." It teaches girls to demand respect, and that bravery and courage are more important than a beautiful dress. Anyway, it's clever.

Summer said...

This is one of my favorite posts of yours. I can't point out specifics but it's just so uplifting. I've never heard of that book but I'll definitely have to find and read it now.

kadusey said...

Oh, I haven't seen a copy of that book in ages! Thanks for the reminder, now I can keep an eye out for it. I love the illustrations of the Easter Eggs.

Mandy said...

I love this book and just recently started to read it to my daughter. Great post!

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

This is my favorite Easter book, and I've given it as a gift a few times. :)

I also notice that the little bunny who could is brown, against all the big white bunnies. Not just a feminist tale, but race relations as well. ;) Nice because my little girl is a brown cotton tale herself.

I have always loved this story. Loved that the children did their fair share, loved that painting was just as valued as laundry, love that she fulfilled her dreams, and went home again. Love it.

Patricia Linehan said...

Great post. I have never heard of that book, but I'll have to search it out now.

Are you entering your own write away contest this month? Kidding.

Scribbit said...

Jellyjules--I noticed that too, and I wondered in DuBose Heyward was AFrican American (given the Porgy connection) but no, he was white. In fact it said that Langston Hughes said that Heyward was one of the few who could see accurately with "white eyes" or something to that effect.

The whole tone of the story is so sweet and tender that he must have been a very fair minded man.

And One Mom--Perfect! How did I miss that? Just goes to show this book should be on school reading lists for discussion :)

Melissa said...

Beautiful post! It inspired me and I haven't read the book before. I will have to try to find it now.

3 Bay B Chicks said...

My mother used to read this story to us every Easter. Now that I have children, I have started a similar tradition with my own kids. However, it wasn't until I read this post this morning that I began thinking about the author and the little story in an entirely different light. Thank you!

Wishing you and your family a lovely holiday weekend.

-Francesca

PS: Thank you again for the Chick Chat mention. The gardening reference made me laugh.

AlaskaLark said...

Beautiful post for a book I already loved. I think it was such a progressive message for the time and an encouragement through the years.

Anjali said...

Love the book, and love this tribute to it. Feminist theory, at its best!

Chrissy Johnson said...

This is like an immediate print-out and tack up on both my desk @ home and @ work. xoxo

Nancy said...

I had this book growing up...I remember loving the pictures. Now I'll have to ask my mother if she still has it.

Kendall & Nichole said...

Thanks, I really enjoyed that and needed the gentle reminder.

Flea said...

Happy Easter, Michelle. :) I love that you get so much from a 70 year old children's book. I love that it promotes bunnies of color.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Great post! I love that story also.

Shalee said...

True, true, true! I love the take you have on the book, Michelle. It's inspiring to never give up on dreams, no matter your age or life situations.

Motherhood, if done right, is the biggest blessing we'll ever have to give not only the world, but ourselves as well. Life is just so much better when we love our kids and teach them how to live in this world, taking care of themselves, each other and others that we don't know.

Happy Easter!

Madeline said...

I'd forgotten about that book. I bet I still have a copy. It was once a favorite. You certainly put a new spin on it!

Adventures In Babywearing said...

Wow. I have NEVER seen this book before!! I want it! I loved this post!

Steph

Mirien said...

Good post. Lately I can relate to: * Sometimes you have to work all night to get the job done.

* Sometimes you don't sleep at all.

But it can be done--thanks for the reminder!

Anonymous said...

oh how sweet. We have this book, but haven't read it in a while or so thoroughly. :-) thanks

illahee said...

i first encountered this book here in japan as an english teacher. it's lovely! i wish i had a copy for my kids. hm...

Olric Chekhov said...

I remember a student made a book report out of this book and in detail she presented it in a more feministic side.

Alice Wills Gold said...

Thank you twice for the good share...I have never heard of this book and its message and old vintage illustrations are right down my ally....I am going to see if I can find one! I want to read the whole thing....to my kids!

I am having one dilemna though....what happened to the dream of The Easter Bunny when your husband decided it was time that she didn't exist anymore.....my poor poor children.

Kim N said...

I must get this book! I love it just from reading your description and feelings about it. Great list!

SpinDiva said...

I'm coming late to this one but what a great post this is. I love ...love your blog. I have to go back and maybe print this one for future use. Thanks. I would love to visit Alaska some day...

Patience said...

This is a fabulous post. Thanks.

* TONYA * said...

Fabulous post and what a beautiful book. I'd never seen it before. I wonder if I can find a copy somewhere.

ooglebloops said...

Great post!! I had this book, and may still - I love it and will have to search for it!!! Happy Easter - a day late...................

jubilee said...

I can't wait to share this book with my kids. Hope I can find it.

A great pair of shoes makes all the difference, for sure!

Michelle said...

I bought this book not too long ago.It really is a lovely read .We're so lucky that DD loves her books and to be to every night.