THE BEST BUNNIES IN BOOKS
With Easter just around the corner, I’d like to share a selection of work that I’ve discovered (and re-discovered) while putting together my latest class, Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration. With a mix of theory and practical, this class uses picture books and art as inspiration for a series of illustration projects.
BUNNY BOOK LIST
Below I list the publications (and art) used in the Bunnies in Books: Human-like lesson of my new class Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration, linking the books that are available to buy online. (Some earlier works are not available).
As well as listing the books, I’ll be giving you a brief outline of the Bunnies in Books: Human-like lesson, with a focus on anthropomorphism and how it is implemented across the time-line of picture book publications.
AESOP’S FABLE THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE
For as long as picture books have been in print, anthropomorphism has been used by illustrators as a way of bringing human-like qualities to animal characters. It’s interesting to see the different ways illustrators have brought human qualities to an animal…in this case, the bunny.
Looking at early works illustrating Aesop’s famous fable The Tortoise and The Hare you can see the various degrees of anthropomorphism in the animal/human spectrum. From keeping the animal characters looking natural and animal-like, as in Milo Winter’s 1886 illustration (below right) of Aesop’s fable, all the way through to making the animals behave, dress and live in a human-like way, as shown in Arthur Brackhams’s rendition of The Tortoise and The Hare, published in 1912 (below left).
Compare these with a modern version of The Tortoise & the Hare by Jerry Pinkney, first published in 2013, Were Pinkney takes the best of both earlier works, striking the perfect anthropomorphic balance of animal and human.
In my latest Skillshare class The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration, you’ll discover the trends of anthropomorphism in animal characters, as well as see a wide range of human/animal variations across time. You’ll also see how history has influenced the modern illustrator and their take on anthropomorphism.
Let’s compare two well-known rabbit characters. Rabbit from the Winne-the-Pooh, by A. A Milnes illustrated by E.H Shepard series and White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carrol, illustrated by John Tenniel.
Rabbit was one the few characters from the Winnie-the-Pooh series to not be designed from a toy, and you can clearly see (below) how Rabbit looks far more natural and animal-like, compared to the other Winnie-the-Pooh characters.
On the other hand, the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland is far more human-like. Dressed in fashionable clothes of that time and behaving in a very human-like way – constantly looking at his pocket watch, fretting and running late. A bridgeway from ‘real’ to fantasy, White Rabbit leads Alice down the rabbit hole into the wonderland filled with even more strange and fantastical anthropomorphic characters.
63 years later, we have the development of a new rabbit character who features in The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter. Wearing a little blue jacket and slippers, Peter Rabbit lives with his family in an underground home filled with all the (creature) comforts of human living. Set in and amongst an extended community, walking distance from the local village, school, shops…and Mr. McGregor’s garden! Peter Rabbit behaves very much like a young boy, but remains rabbit-like in movement (especially when he’s on the move).
Peter rabbit came from a picture letter original sent by Beatrix Potter to Annie Moore’s son Noel. After being rejected by several publishers, Beatrix Potter decided to publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit herself, printing an initial 250 copies for family and friends in 1901.
It was then that the publisher Frederick Warne & Co. – who had previously turned down the ‘bunny book’ – reconsidered their decision. They offered to take it on, as long as Beatrix re-illustrated it in colour. Reluctant at first Beatrix Potter changed her mind and worked with Warne who also suggested cutting the illustrations down from forty-two to thirty-two, marking the beginning of the 32 page picture book that we know today.
The bunny book was published in colour in October 1902, and timing well with a sudden surge in the small picture-book market, The tale of peter rabbit is now one of the best-selling picture books of all time.
Almost one-hundred years later, another successful bunny book is published in 1994. Guess How Much I love You, by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram, features a natural looking Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. Using the same watercolour and ink combination used to render Peter Rabbit, at first glance Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare look more animal than human. Not wearing any clothing and moving through the story in their natural animal habitat, it’s their human-like behaviour and actions – competing to measure their love for one another – that portray an anthropomorphic quality.
Seeing the wide range of styles and techniques that illustrators have used over the years to design and illustrate the same animal. Its interesting to compare the extremes of Anita Jeram’s heartfelt emotive watercolours to the sophisticated style of The Rabbits, by Shaun Tan.
A picture book with very little text, this story is incredibly powerful. The invading rabbits – inspired by early British explorers – arrive with all the trappings of European culture. They arrive, take over and exploit the land to the point of devastation, taking the small numbats (a rabbit-like native marsupial) from their families, their communities and their home.
The Rabbits are more graphic and statue-like than emotive. The provocative acrylic paintings, capture the vastness and beauty of Australian landscape, changing the tone and the mood of the story as the invasion unfolds.
Now, for a completely different take on a similar rabbit problem, The Rabbit Problem, by Emily Gravett. First published in 2009, the watercolour and pencil-line illustrations are more caricature in style, with their large round eyes and distinguishing characteristics, Gravett’s illustrations bring humour and awareness to a very serious issue.
The Rabbit Problem shows the bunny characters socialising, sitting in a classroom and behaving in a very human-like way. The story follows the the calendar year, with a Lonely Rabbit sending out an invitation in January for other rabbits to join her. In February, two cold bunnies (Lonely and Chalk) snuggle up together, with the result that by March there’s a pair of baby rabbits. By May there are five pairs, by July 13 pairs and by October there are 55 pairs of rabbits! With rabbits literally bursting off the page, Emily Gravett’s humour brings a very human quality to The Rabbit Problem.
Compare Gravett’s expressive humour to a the dry sarcasm seen in Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, published in 2012. The seemingly simple illustrations are deceptive in themselves, as they portray a very complex and sinister rabbit character, who adopts the role of the villain.
To finish, I could not run past the two gorgeous bunnies that I illustrated in The Grasshopper’s Dance Juliette McIver, illustrated by Nina Rycroft. Although not officially a ‘bunny book’, my watercolour and pencil bunny characters, march and tumble across the pages of the book in full anthropomorphic style.
From portraying a tender moment of friendship (above), to the…joy and bounce in the
‘Rum-a-pum pum on the big bass drum, a somersault bunny in the summer-sun-sun!’ (below).
I found bunny characters an absolute delight to illustrate and something that I am truly excited to share with you in my new class.
I’ve been illustrating anthropomorphic animals since my first publications Little Platypus by Nette Hilton, Nina Rycroft back in 2000. Bringing human-like qualities to animal characters is my favourite thing to do and I’ve learnt a lot of techniques over the years which I share in my latest Skillshare class The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration.
As well as exploring the popularity and history of rabbits, hares and bunnies in picture book stories, in this class, I take you through the process that I use to apply anthropomorphism to animal characters from drawing using photographic reference to bringing human qualities to an animal character, we create a watercolour illustration (the same technique that I used in The Grasshopper’s Dance) for an Easter illustration celebration.
Whether it’s reading a bunny book and seeing the illustrations with fresh eyes, or drawing, sketching and illustrating bunnies for someone special. Celebrate this Easter with bunnies in books…and maybe a little bit of chocolate!