At some point between my childhood and several years ago, I forgot all about I Am a Bunny. When I was pregnant and enthusiastically collecting picture books for my daughter’s library, I never had even a wisp of thought about a tall, slender board book with a sweetly smiling bunny on the cover wearing red overalls. Never.
And then, there he was. I was browsing the children’s section at a favorite bookstore, and there was that little rabbit, wearing those cheery overalls and a bright yellow shirt, taking shelter under a rain-splattered toadstool as long droplets of white rain streaked past.
Inside, the opening lines flooded out with an almost hypnotic power: “I am a bunny. My name is Nicholas. I live in a hollow tree.” Immediately, I remembered how intensely I loved this book as a child; how I lingered over the pages and loved following Nicholas through the seasons as he observes the flowers in bloom, the butterflies in flight, the autumn leaves in free fall, and the snow drifting from the sky; how satisfied I felt as he laid down at the very end to sleep in his hollow tree, his small red cap hung neatly on a hook by his bed.
This is a book for the very young about nature. A board book, it comes in a shapely narrow format — a size that seems distinctive to older board books published by Golden Books. (This one hails from 1963.) It’s intended to be gripped, dropped, manhandled, chewed even. It is intended, also, to be soaked up with the eyes. Illustrated by Richard Scarry, the artwork is bright and glossy and detailed and colorful. It’s amazing stuff from the beloved illustrator — and totally different than his distinctive Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm-style work.
The text — no more than three lines per spread, usually — keeps quietly to the bottom of the page. Nicholas does, too. The rest of each two-page panorama is saved for the grand sweep of what Nicholas is looking at: the blue, blue sky; the chickadees and bluebirds and robins; the strawberry plants, bursting with seed and leaf and ornamented with small white flowers.
Some people have criticized I Am a Bunny for Nicholas’s passivity: He just looks, they say, and he doesn’t interact. I think that’s the very heart of why this book is special. It’s about looking, and wondering, and seeing, and feeling awed. It’s about the way the natural world can make us feel small — and wonderful. Thank you for coming back to me, little bunny. I will never forget you again.