|We think we’re so smart. And enlightened. And PC. And above all, sensitive. Boy are we sensitive – to gender, race, sexual identity, alternative parenting and all the other issues we often think have arisen only during the last ten or so years of our enlightened and sensitive lives. Not so fast. We’re often so eager to tell history how it should have been, how it would have been if only we had been there to shape its values properly, that we fail to notice that sometimes history was actually way ahead.
All it takes to remind us that we haven’t invented the universe is a book for children published 67 years ago – a secular Easter bunny book, of all things, written by a man, of all people, with a straight-on feminist message and then some for kids and their parents alike.
I’m talking about The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes , written for his daughter by DuBose Heyward, upon whose novel George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess was based, with pictures by Marjorie Flack. Published in 1939, this classic tells the story of Cottontail, a little bunny, brown and female, who dreams of growing up to be one of the five Easter bunnies selected by the kindly Grandfather Rabbit to deliver goody baskets to children all over the world. Scoffed at by the big, white, male rabbits, who tell her to go home and munch a carrot, the country bunny puts her dream on hold when she marries and has twenty one bunny kids. (She’s a rabbit, after all.) Smart enough to figure out that she can’t do it all alone, the off-ramped country bunny trains those kids to help run their home. Two do the sweeping, two the cooking, two sing songs and paint pictures to keep the family happy, and so forth. Soon the kids are old enough for their mother to get back in the game and enter the Easter bunny competition. Intrigued by the mother standing there with her twenty one bunny kids, Grandfather Rabbit is one guy smart enough to realize that because Cottontail is a mother, she is more qualified than all the guy rabbits to be one of the five Easter Bunnies. She’s kinder (her kids are all happy and good to one another), wiser (she taught them to take care of their house, didn’t she??), swifter ( she’s chased after them for years), and more clever than all the other candidates. Right about now, you should be getting a picture of Nancy Pelosi standing up there not long ago surrounded by all those kids on the day she took up the gavel as Speaker of the House. Off-ramped bunny mom gets back on and becomes CEO of the Easter franchise.
There’s more to the story – Cottontail makes her rounds, climbs her mountains, and faces a big obstacle - you’ll have to read it to your own kids to find out about those little gold shoes – but this isn’t just a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for Easter tale. Rudolph didn’t have to do anything, after all, to get elected to lead Santa’s sleigh; he was born with that nose. Cottontail is much more than that – determined, smart, maternal, eminently capable and, yes, ambitious. Without ever being preachy, the story’s undertones of race, class, and gender prejudice keep this little classic startlingly contemporary. Check out The Country Bunny  in the See Mom Work Section of the Mommy Track'd Reading Room.