Good Bye, Bunny Bangs by Dorathea Dana
One morning as Dean and Delia are out playing they notice that the neighbor’s dog is pointing at a bush. As the day wears on the dog is still there and the children are increasingly intrigued. When they finally check on him they discover a tiny baby rabbit with a gash on his shoulder. Even though their mother protests, the children bring the bunny home to help rehabilitate him. As the bunny begins to feel better he starts thumping everyone with his back feet, earning the name Bunny Bangs. The family cares for him and as he grows he moves out into a small pen around a hollow tree in their yard. Finally it’s time to let Bunny Bangs return to the wild and the children are sad to see him go, but there’s a surprise waiting for them the next morning.
My mom read this to me when I was a little girl and she read it when she was a little girl. I remember loving it when I was a child and when I reread it about 10 years ago. This time through I wanted to see if it held up looking at it with a more critical eye and for the most part it does.
I certainly don’t recommend getting advice on pet care from the book, nor do I recommend listening to it for information on rabbit behavior. The family is woefully ignorant in those regards. They have a parrot who they give coffee to every morning and they think the rabbit thumping is his temper (rabbit thumping is often a sign of fear and they use their powerful back legs to get away). If you set this stuff aside (which I found easy to do, as I wasn’t looking for a guidebook to rabbits) it’s really a darling story. The children clearly love animals. Their mother laments all the “pets” they have found in the woods and brought home. This time she insists the rabbit won’t remain a pet. And yet everyone is rather subdued when Bunny Bangs is released into the woods.
The setting is rather idyllic with the children playing in the woods and yard everyday. They change into their play clothes, take naps in the afternoon, and spend the weekend building a hutch with their father. It’s all very 1950s (right down to the family being white), but it doesn’t feel weird. Just happy and gentle. No one is dysfunctional and there isn’t anything overtly or covertly sexist. The mother is a stay at home mom, but that in and of itself isn’t sexist. Even when the mother suggests that the children build a hutch with their father, she contributes supplies and it sounds more like she’s setting up time with the dad than implying women can’t build. The illustration actually shows the little girl more involved helping the father than the older brother. So looking for those things that can crop up in books from this era, I couldn’t find anything that was objectionable, even if it was a tiny bit dated.
Spoiler alert: The end has a funny and sweet twist to it that I think is really wonderful for new readers. It turns out there was a hole in the back of the tree and Bunny Bangs was always free to get in and out of his pen. When the children wake the morning after releasing him, there he is back in his pen waiting for breakfast. It’s such a happy ending to a sweet story about helping wildlife. The kids decide he’s back because he now trusts that they didn’t want to keep him locked up.
The book isn’t particularly long, but it’s more of an early reader than picture book. The illustrations are darling. Try not to coo over the picture of baby Bunny Bangs stretched out in a strawberry basket. There are plenty of pictures, but there is a fair amount of text as well. It would be perfect for early second grade, but it can serve as a read aloud down into Kindergarten and up into third grade. Kids love animals stories and this is a sweet one. I’m so glad it help up.