(Golden Books, 2003)
7 p. One hundred and twenty-ninth reading.
Sleepy Bunny is one of those works of literature that saturate and transform one’s imagination. Between the first page, when we are ushered into a quiet room where it is “time for bed”, and the last page (a mere 6 pages later, but what pages!), in which we look out at a dazzling night sky and drift to sleep, it is as though time is suspended, and we live in a fairy land of endless possibilities and bedtime snacks.
Philosophers have often said that sleep is a “little death”, and that preparation for falling asleep is an emblem or a symbol of how we, mortals all, must also prepare for death. Sleepy Bunny subtly provokes such reflections. Indeed, more than once in my many re-readings of this work I thought that I might actually die. The book rehearses bedtime rituals which unite all humanity: cleaning up toys, saying goodnight to the family pet, reading a book (a sequence sure to send some especially sophisticated readers into fits of postmodern, self-referential ecstasy), and having a snack. In so doing, it reminds us, allegorically, of the romance and dignity of manual labour, of the profound ecological relationships uniting all organic life on our planet, of the importance of education and intellectual development to the well-lived life, and of the conviviality and fellowship of a shared meal. Only when such lessons are well-learned are we truly prepared, the book implies, to enter into our rest, gazing upwards in wonder at the stellatum, beyond which dwells inapproachable light.
Life is mystery, too, and Sleepy Bunny gently turns us toward it, though without attempting to cheaply “solve the puzzle” of existence. In several of the book’s illustrations, a mysterious knee-high giraffe appears. This giraffe is nowhere mentioned, or even alluded to, in the text, nor does it play any obvious role in the narrative. Yet there it is, where we least expect it, like an unlooked-for blessing or a useless widget. The fact that giraffes are never, in this world, knee-high only adds to the wonderment which this magical creature evokes.
Perhaps most remarkably, Sleepy Bunny is more than a book. Indeed, one could say that it is a book only by analogy. Sleepy Bunny is made of soft, plush fabric. The “pages” are almost like pillows; they cannot be torn, and they can easily withstand even sustained chewing. By fashioning the book in this way, I believe the book-maker is intending an elaborate pun on the use of “sewn” bindings in high-end “cloth” books, though to what purpose I cannot say. Moreover, several of the pages are three-dimensional, with sewn pockets, and the book is accompanied by a small bunny which can be slipped into these pockets, just as one slips into bed. How fitting. This bunny is evidently the sleepy bunny.
Sleepy Bunny is a work of considerable originality and quiet beauty. It can be revisited again and again and again and again and again, as I can attest from personal experience. Though its merit will be best appreciated by a discerning adult, the book could also be suitable reading for young children.