Many people, Christian and non-Christian, have heard of Mary Magdalene. She appears in the Bible at prominent places in Christ’s life—two being at Easter: she was with the women who discovered Jesus had risen from the dead. And in another reading, she comes upon Jesus in the garden adjacent to the tomb. She mistakes him for a gardener. Such a lovely story to awaken deeper Easter meanings–this woman was highly regarded and blessed–a new idea for that time.
Easter is spring and rebirth and invites us always to look at our lives and to grasp new ideas, live our lives differently, make our lives better. Spring holds so many symbols of rebirth and rethinking. Even the plethora of chicks and bunnies says that on a small level. But the birth of new ideas is what we need to focus on. And what better way than to teach children, the coming generations, equality for everyone–male and female.
Maybe that’s why DuBose Heyward, a southern author who is best known for his novel Porgy that was the basis for Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, wrote The Country Bunny and The Little Gold Shoes. The title page states: as told to Jenifer, his daughter, who needed to know that her sex didn’t have to hold her back from becoming anything she wanted to be.
This heart-felt story cherished by many families during the Easter season, tells the tale of a simple mother bunny and how she became one of the five Easter Bunnies who travel the world bringing baskets of colored eggs and candy to children. With a copyright of 1939, it’s a tale ahead of its time.
The storyteller describes his heroine as: “a little country girl bunny with a brown skin and a little cotton-ball of a tail.” Her dream was to grow up and become one of the Easter Bunnies. “You wait and see!” she would say. But the Jack Rabbits with long legs and the big white bunnies who lived in fine houses scoffed at her and put her down.
After Cottontail grows up and has twenty-one Cottontail babies, these same Jacks and big rabbits really laugh at her. “What did we tell you! Only 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.” Heyward writes that “they went away liking themselves very much.” Note that Heyward’s editor wanted Cottontail to have a husband, but in the end she is a single mom.
The Grandfather Easter Bunny who is wise and kind, lives in the Palace of the Easter Eggs. In the story he must select a fifth bunny. This is Cottontail’s chance. She brings all of her 21 children to the tryouts where the Grandfather cannot help but notice her.
He tests her to see if she is as wise and kind as he is. But she must also be swift. When she scatters her 21 children and in seconds is able to round them up again, the Grandfather is convinced. She will be his fifth Easter Bunny. The writer tells us that when Cottontail arrives at the Palace of the Easter Eggs for this amazing duty, the other four Easter Bunnies do not laugh at her—“for they were wise and kind and knew better.”
Cottontail meets her challenges during this charming tale, her deep desire and loving heart capturing every reader and providing a sunny Easter morning finish.
Anita Silvey on her website A Book-A-Day-Almanac writes: The story stresses the importance of hope, determination, and courage. Not only was the book a feminist statement in a time when this perspective was rarely shown, it also celebrates the achievements of a brown bunny rather than a white one. Yet at no point does the reader ever feel as if they are being given a polemic—Heyward has created a totally satisfying world.
The copy I own is a First Printing, copyright 1939, paper edition. It is well-worn and well-loved. It might even be the one my mother read to me. But I know it’s the one I read to my three children. For anyone wanting to celebrate spring, rebirth and ideas that are meaningful–this simple story is powerful and yet gentle at the same time. Enjoy.
I want to thank my daughter, Christie, who is also a mother to a daughter and values this story for the simple power it holds for adult and child readers alike.
For more ideas on this interpretation go here.
Thanks to Istock Photos. Thanks to Washington Post photos.