Friday, October 12, 2012

Bunnicula...

I really wish I could have sat in on this book pitch. It had to go something like this:
So, there's this vampire rabbit. And he sucks the juice out of carrots, celery stalks, you know. He gets adopted by a family that finds him in a movie theater (rabbits at the movies; kids will love it!). The cat realizes that the bunny sucks vegetables, thinks he's a threat to the family, and sets out to kill the rabbit (think Fatal Attraction for kids). Fun ensues. (Oh, yeah, and the family dog tells the story.)
It's so ridiculous it had to work, and it did. The Bunnicula series, the first book of which was published in 1979, grew to be wildly popular, and the vampire rabbit continues to haunt bookshelves throughout the US. When I first read this book, a long time ago, I remember enjoying it immensely, even though that rabbit did give me a few nightmares along the way. What if he didn't like vegetables? What if he really liked tasty eight-year-old morsels?

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes a successful children's book, what guarantees that it will be a hit. While I truly think there is no guarantee, the best books do seem to share a trait of irreverence, of rebelliousness that thumbs its nose at the adult status quo. Much as Lewis Carroll ridicules adult mores and morals in the Alice books, successful children's books that have followed in Alice's footsteps pay more attention to what kids will appreciate than what their parents will.  I think Jeff Kinney, the creator of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, explained this concept well in an interview a while back: "Kids can sniff out when they are being preached to and they don't like it," he says. "So while my books aren't amoral they are not infused with morals or a message either and kids like that" (Kinney interview). Bunnicula persists in my mind as a book of this sort; it may have a message and a moral, but it is largely about the fun of reading itself, of getting engrossed in a fantastical scenario and just having a good time. Here's hoping you dig into some fun yourself this weekend. Adieu. ~Alice


PS: This post is dedicated to my husband (let's call him the Mad Hatter), because we always tease him that Bunnicula was the last book he ever read ... when he was 7;).  

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