Thursday, September 13, 2007

Picture Books: My Friend Rabbit

Rohmann, Eric. 2002. MY FRIEND RABBIT. Brookfield, CN: Roaring Book Press/Millbrook Press. ISBN 0761324208.

*Winner of 2003 Caldecott Medal for Illustration*

Mouse’s best friend Rabbit has good intentions but, no matter what, trouble always seems to find him. So when he sends Mouse’s new airplane into the branches of a tree, Rabbit comes up with a funny and unique way of retrieving it by stacking an elephant, a rhinoceros, a hippopotamus, an elk, an alligator, a bear, a duck, and a squirrel on top of each other, which in itself causes more trouble. But with all said and done, Mouse is still his friend.

It is the wonderful illustrations in My Friend Rabbit that truly make this a comical and endearing story. Because of its double-page spread and limited text design, the illustrations take center stage. Rohmann uses a relief cut method, such as woodcutting, to create his artwork. As a result everything has strong black outlines, including the pages. The vivid colors compliment as well as balance the black outlining. The facial expressions of the Rabbit, Mouse, and the zoo animals are easily readable.

To create more dynamics and excitement, Rohmann adds special touches to his artwork. For example, the airplane will fly off the page and will reappear on the next, and because the elephant, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus are so rotund they sometime do not fit on the page, thus a tail or paw will fall off the page. To keep the readers curious of what will happen next, the illustrations will even leave glimpses of what is next to come in the right-hand corner of the page, such as Rabbit tugging on a tail of a large gray animal that will be, once the page is turned, the elephant.

The final tactic, through the illustrations, for keeping the readers not only engaged in the story but also in the book itself, is seen at the climax when Rabbit has all of the animals stacked on top of each other and is close to reaching the tree branches and the airplane. The reader has to turn the book on end to not only read the text but also see the entire illustration.

As narrator, Mouse simply explains that,“[His] friend Rabbit means well. But whatever he does, wherever he goes, trouble follows” (Rohmann, 1-2.) Because of the concise use of text, Rohmann weaves the words into the illustrations, which encourages the readers to turn to the next page to continue the story, as well as help build up the suspense at the climatic point of the book. The story and text also comes laughably full circle. When the airplane is free from the tree, Rabbit once again finds a way not only for the airplane to be stuck in the tree but also Mouse and himself, who once again states, “Don’t worry Mouse, I’ve got an idea” (Rohmann, 30.)

Everyone can relate to the Rohmann’s story of a friendship like Mouse and Rabbit’s. At one point or another we have all had a friend, or even we were the one, that had ideas that never quite went right. The endearing message at the end of My Friend Rabbit is despite all of Rabbit’s mistakes, Mouse still sees him as a friend and even saves him from unhappy zoo animals, as he says, “But Rabbit means well. And he is my friend. Even if, whatever he does, wherever he goes, trouble follows” (Rohmann, 26-30.)

"Ages 4-8. Mouse, the narrator who flies a red and yellow biplane, tells listeners that his friend Rabbit "means well," but that trouble always follows him. Then comes a smart, sassy object lesson on how much trouble Rabbit brings. The fun of this is in the spacing and sequencing of the heavily ink-outlined drawings. After Rabbit has thrown Mouse's beloved biplane into a tree, one full page consists of tiny Mouse staring up, ink accents marking his exasperation. On the facing page, Rabbit darts off, promising a solution. The next double-spread shows an anxious Mouse as Rabbit drags one enormous tail into view. The space fills with a massive elephant. Then Rabbit pulls in, among others, a rhino, a reindeer, and a duck (followed, of course, by ducklings). Now, the two-page spread must be turned vertically to reveal a giant pyramid of animals, topped by a squirrel holding Mouse, who reaches for the biplane--then the mass topples. Rage-filled beasts turn on Rabbit. Mouse, flying in on his recovered plane, saves Rabbit from their clutches and claws. Tremendous physical humor delivers a gentle lesson about accepting friends as they are. --Connie Fletcher” (May 15, 2002)

“My friend Rabbit means well, begins the mouse narrator. But whatever he does, wherever he goes, trouble follows. Once Rabbit pitches Mouse's airplane into a tree, Rohmann tells most of the story through bold, expressive relief prints, a dramatic departure for the illustrator of The Cinder-Eyed Cats and other more painterly works. Rabbit might be a little too impulsive, but he has big ideas and plenty of energy. Rohmann pictures the pint-size, long-eared fellow recruiting an elephant, a rhinoceros and other large animals, and coaching them to stand one on top of another, like living building blocks, in order to retrieve Mouse's plane. Readers must tilt the book vertically to view the climactic spread: a tall, narrow portrait of a stack of very annoyed animals sitting on each other's backs as Rabbit holds Squirrel up toward the stuck airplane. The next spread anticipates trouble, as four duckling onlookers scurry frantically; the following scene shows the living ladder upended, with lots of flying feathers and scrabbling limbs. Somehow, in the tumult, the airplane comes free, and Mouse, aloft again, forgives his friend... even as the closing spread implies more trouble to follow. This gentle lesson in patience and loyalty, balanced on the back of a hilarious set of illustrations, will leave young readers clamoring for repeat readings. Ages 4-8.” (April 29, 2002)

*Ask the children which animal was asleep through out the whole book, and which type of animal could Rabbit have used to reach the airplane.
*Ask the children if they had a friend like Rabbit.
*Read other books on the same subject, for example Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst (Illustrated by Ray Cruz), and How to be a Friend: A Guide to Making Friends and Keeping Them by Laurie Krasny Brown (Illustrated by Marc Brown.)
*Do an art project where the children can mimic Rohmann’s illustrations by create their own relief prints by using Styrofoam trays or plates and ink.

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