Cottontail The Bunny, Feminist Icon

Sunde White writes an essay about feminist icon from children's book The Country Bunny and the little golden shoes by DuBose Heyward

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It’s almost Easter and I just wanted to remind everyone about an 85 year old book about a cute little lady rabbit that smashes all of life’s barriers in order to achieve her dream.  If this book were written in today’s backwards world it would probably be immediately banned in Florida for giving other ladies any bright ideas about seeking freedom in their own lives.

The Country Bunny and The Little Golden Shoes , written by DuBose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack, has always been one of my favorite books.  When I revisited it a couple years ago I realized why I loved it so much.  It’s about an underestimated bunny rabbit named Cottontail that even though she was looked down on and made fun of for her big dream of becoming one of the world’s five Easter Bunnies she was determined to achieve her goal.

Why is this a groundbreaking children’s book?  First of all it deals with a lot of class and racial discrimination with “big white bunnies who live in fine houses”  looking down on the “country girl bunny with brown skin”.

Also, Cottontail gets married to a deadbeat that never shows his face again after he makes 21 babies with her then leaves her to raise them all by herself, which of course she does like a total boss.  When her kids were tiny little baby bunnies she was so bummed that she had to set all her dreams aside but the second her kids got old enough, she put them to work in a very loving and supporting way so the household was taken care of in case she ever wanted to go have her own life one day.

BTW, I also love that even though this was written in 1939 the girl bunnies AND the boy bunnies did the housework equally.  It wasn’t like the boy bunnies did the gardening and car fixing and the girl bunnies sewed things.  Nope!  The boys also did the cleaning and cooking and sewing!

One day an Easter Bunny became too old to run all around the world delivering goodies and Cottontail and her 21 kids went to the bunny palace to watch the big masculine jack rabbits try out to replace him. The Easter Bunny king was so impressed with all of her life skills she had developed over time by being a mom that he asked if she was swift enough to be an Easter Bunny.  She told all her kids to scatter and run as fast as they could from her and in an instant she had chased them all down and had lined them back up beside her in a blink of an eye.  Ignoring all the big strong jack rabbits’ grumbling, he appointed her to be the new Easter Bunny!

The other thing I like about this story is she was very nervous to meet the 4 other Easter Bunnies because she thought they would try to diminish her but, “none of the other four Easter Bunnies laughed, “for they were wise and kind and knew better.”  OMG, I adore male allies that support women.  They are so important in women being treated as if we are actually whole human beings and not just dumb uteruses.

I won’t spoil the ending of this book but in a nutshell because of all her hard work she realizes she can have a family and a career and she can be totally bad ass but still wear pretty shoes and be loved and accepted and be empowered and inspiring doing big things in the world.

About the author:

How did some guy write a feminist manifesto for little kids disguised as an Easter Bunny book?? It was a story his mom made up and told him his whole childhood which he then retold to his daughter.  He was cool enough to honor his mom’s story and write it down in the celebratory and triumphant way that he did.

Another fact about DuBose Heyward:  His wife was a playwright and after he wrote his novel Porgy in 1925, they worked together to turn it into the Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess.  It was the first American opera about the lives of black people and debuted on Broadway with an all black cast in 1935.

Porgy and Bess, 1935

About the Illlustrator:

Marjorie Flack was a children’s book writer and illustrator.  Besides The Country Bunny, she also wrote and illustrated The Story About Ping and a series of books about a dog named Angus.  She won The Caldecott award in 1947 for her book The Boats On The River.   She died in 1958 at the age of 61.