Sleepy bunny

February 26, 2010

Sleepy Bunny
(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.

14 Responses to “Sleepy bunny”

  1. Adam Hincks Says:

    Perhaps when you’re older you can try reading Goodnight Moon.

  2. Jim Says:

    This is truly a critical masterpiece. Our little miss isn’t yet old enough for bedtime stories — she doesn’t get past the bedtime snack — but she and I have been having fun reading the Economist on Saturday morning. For some reason, she finds stories about Greece’s financial problems especially hilarious.

  3. Christina A. Says:

    I think the giraffe must be Sophie the Giraffe, who can be seen here:
    Yes, a $22 teething toy. We got one as a baby shower gift. She is magically small for a giraffe.

  4. Christina A. Says:

    Evidently, my marriage consists of me and my husband simultaneously, but unwittingly, reading and commenting on your blog while sitting across from one another on our respective laptops…

  5. Jim Says:

    … but it’s such an excellent blog.

  6. cburrell Says:

    It seems it is another exciting Friday night in King’s Town!

    No, that’s not the same giraffe. The giraffe I’m thinking of is more solemn.

  7. Nick Milne Says:

    I don’t know what to think of this. On the one hand, it is legitimately funny – quite delightfully so, in spots. A lot of the analysis, though obviously tongue-in-cheek, points to things that really are true about the book (presumably).

    Nevertheless, I just don’t know. I imagine the tedium involved in having to read the same book to an eager young soul again and again and again must be great, and I can only sympathize with you via inference. Still, the forces of will at work in crafting stories for children – the kindness, and the friendliness, and the desire to put at ease – are such that I can never feel quite right about japing at them even as gently as this.

    I have no idea what your own level of seriousness is in this, and I speak only for myself. Still, it made me feel uncomfortable to read it, somehow.

  8. cburrell Says:

    Thanks, Nick. I wrote it late at night in a moment of whimsy. It is meant to be whimsical, not sarcastic. You’re quite right that those who write children’s books deserve our thanks. Re-reading such books is actually not so trying, not yet anyway, since our daughter doesn’t have preferences about her bedtime reading yet. I just thought it would be fun (and maybe funny) to write something like this. I do not forget what Chesterton said about children (and God) being strong enough to exult in monotony. Nonetheless, I thank you for the gentle correction.

  9. Janet Says:

    I just goes to show how having children enriches your life. 😉

    I have read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Good Night Moon, and several others hundreds and hundreds of times. It was never tedious because the children I was reading to weren’t tedious when I was reading to them. (At other times they could be pretty tedious.) I wish I had somebody to read them to now.


  10. cburrell Says:

    Thanks, Janet. It is lovely to hear from you again.

    I am certainly very happy that I have someone to read these books to. She started walking this weekend!

    She also loves The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Goodnight Moon is new to me, but that’s now two recommendations, so onto the list it goes.

  11. Janet Says:

    Oh, you will be really busy now!

    Has it been a while since I’ve been here? I’m taking two subjects this semester (Anatomy & Physiology and Economics) which are totally alien to me, so I’ve been doing nothing but studying. I really needed a little break, so your very funny review was greatly appreciated.

    I tried to send a comment like this before, but it never showed up. Sorry if it shows up twice.


  12. Nick Milne Says:

    “Goodnight Moon is new to me.”

    Good heavens. I guess anyone alive could say that, at some point, but I never expected that point to come in the days of one’s robust adulthood.

    Goodnight Moon is to children’s literature what Beethoven’s 5th is to symphonies.

  13. Maclin Says:

    Possibly the best blog post ever. And I haven’t even read The Sleepy Bunny.

    I am, though, very familiar with Goodnight Moon, and agree with Nick’s estimation of it.

  14. cburrell Says:

    Courses like those ones are tough, Janet: heavy memorization because there’s no logic to either of them! I myself have never studied either of those subjects, although of course my wife knows a lot about the former and I’ve picked up a few things from helping her study. Have you learned yet about the peritoneal anastomosis?

    Nick, the list of excellent books that I have not read, even now in the days of my robust adulthood, would probably make you shudder and weep. It is very sad.

    Thanks, Mac.

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