PICTURE STORYBOOKS. When the hunter's children fall out of their cradle in the woods, a kind mother rabbit takes them home and cares for them. She makes them rabbit suits to keep them warm and they play happily with her rabbit children. Meanwhile the hunter searches desperately for his children. He comes across some rabbits, which run away in fear. But there's something strangely familiar about these little rabbits, thinks his clever dog, Spot. Ages 3+.
Originally published in 1906 as Mummelchen und Pummelchen: Eine Hasengeschichte, this story from German author/artist Sibylle von Olfers seems at first glance to feature the same kind of reassuring vision of the natural world to be found in so many of her other works. The Mother Rabbit, after all, looks after the lost Lucy and John, ensuring that no harm befalls them, and treating them as her own children. Similarly, Spot the dog recognizes the children for what they are, and acts quickly to prevent tragedy, and to restore them to their worried parents. In this sense, nature is as gentle and nurturing as ever, even if there are no cherub-like beings in the same style as von Olfers' Root Children, or Snow Children. That said, there is a disturbing undertone to this story, with its tale of parental/child separation, an undertone that evokes stories such as Hansel and Gretel, where another set of siblings is lost in the woods. It also raises interesting ethical questions, questions that remain unanswered. If nature is gentle and nurturing to people, what are people to nature? If human children and baby rabbits are interchangeable, what does it mean that the Hunter is a hunter, someone who kills rabbits? Is Mother Rabbit's kindness to be rewarded, or will she and her family continue to be hunted? One suspects the latter... I'm not sure that Von Olfers intentionally raises any of these questions - given her rather sweet depiction of nature elsewhere, I suspect not - but the fact that they are evoked by the text gives it added appeal, in my mind. Fairy-tales, after all, are made all the more powerful by including some disturbing subtext.