It’s been a tough year. Over Christmas, while thinking about the reason for the season, I was reminded of the importance of joy and how I sometimes lost sight of this in 2020. Regarding a manuscript I am working on, a member of my critique group said (with honest kindness), “It feels a bit too earnest.” I knew immediately how right she was, and not just about that one piece of writing. I realized “too earnest” is a state I have been in for months. Yes, there is serious stuff going on, but have I, have we, been taking ourselves too seriously? Have we lost our sense of humor? Not the variety that comes with cynicism or mocking others, but the good-clean-fun kind. We need funny, whimsy, revelry, silliness, ridiculousness, jocularity, hilarity! My new years’ resolution: Be less earnest — Seek more levity.
I have been revisiting past Ezra Jack Keats Award winners. One of my favorites—Bunny Days by Tao Nyeu—received the illustrator award in 2011. I’d like to celebrate this 10-year anniversary and remind readers, who may need laughter, that you will surely find it here.
Carefully crafted and perfectly balanced, Bunny Days is understated brilliance. Nyeu’s whimsical silkscreen illustrations, with quilted landscapes and soft colors, create a comfortable setting for readers as, in each hilarious story, six carefree bunnies circumstantially befall disasters that reassuringly circle around to happy resolution. Combining clean lines with tightly constructed, rhythmical text, Nyeu creates a satisfying, predictable, matter-of-fact world where washing machines and heavy-duty fans are part of the natural countryside and readily available when needed. Muddy bunnies enjoy a spin in the “delicate” wash cycle and are gently hung out to dry. They are dusted off by an electric fan after being accidentally sucked into a vacuum cleaner, and their fluffy tails are lovingly reattached after a hedge-trimming mishap . . . and “everyone is happy.” Each story is dominated by a single color that supports its theme — blues (water), gold/browns (dusty), and greens (gardening) adding to the harmony of this gem.
When Bunny Days first came out, some found it “disturbing.” (Wait! Didn’t critics say that about Where the Wild Things Are?) But young readers and not-so-earnest adults will “get it” and revel in the fun. Nyeu’s story can serve as a comfortable metaphor for beloved stuffed toys, the misadventures that often befall them, and how a loving parent can make them “as good as new.”
Finding joy is a choice. Find some in Bunny Days.
Happy New Year!