I simply loved Robert Lawson’s book Mr. Revere and I, and I really enjoyed his book The Great Wheel. So you can imagine how excited I was to find another of his books – and a Newbery at that!
“New folks are coming! New folks are coming!” is the cry that spreads over the community of Rabbit Hill like a wildfire. All of the animals are excited – Phewie the skunk can’t wait to raid their garbage can, while Red Buck and Willie Fieldmouse are more excited at the prospect of a thriving garden. But most excited of all is Little Georgie Rabbit, who has never before experienced the thrill of folks living at the House.
But their excitement is mixed with apprehension. What if the new folks are cruel? What if they set up traps and shoot shot-guns? What if they bring dogs!
Mr. Lawson really has the sweetest style when it comes to writing from an animal’s perspective. Here, Phewie the skunk and Red Buck discuss what they most want from the new folks.
Phewie the Skunk stood up by the edge of the pine wood, looking down at the Big House. There was a slight rustle and the Red Buck appeared beside him. “Good evening, sir, and good luck to you,” said Phewie. “New Folks coming.”
“So I understand,” said the Deer. “So I understand, and high time too, not that it matters to me especially. I roam a lot. But things have been poorly here on the Hill for some of the little fellows, very poorly.”
“Yes, you roam,” Phewie answered, “but you’re not above a mess of garden sass now and then, are you?”
“Well, no, not if it’s right to hand,” the Buck admitted. He sniffed slightly. “I say, Phewie, you wouldn’t mind moving over a bit, would you, a little to the leeward? There, that’s fine. Thanks lots. As I was saying, I’m fairly fond of a mess of greens now and then, a row of lettuce, say, or some young cabbage, very young – the old ones give me indigestion – but of course what I really crave is tomatoes – are tomatoes. You take a nice young ripe tomato, now – “
“You take it,” interrupted Phewie. “Personally myself I don’t care whether they’re planting Folks or not, except for the rest of you, of course. Gardens are nothing in my life. What I’m looking forward to is their garbidge.”
“You do have such low tastes, Phewie,” said the Buck. “Er – byt the way, the breeze seems to have shifted – would you mind? There, that’s fine, thanks. As I was saying –“
“Low taste nothing,” answered Phewie indignantly. “You just don’t understand garbidge. Now there’s garbidge and garbidge, just like there’s Folks and Folks. Some Folks’ garbidge just ain’t fit for – well, it ain’t even fitten for garbidge. But there’s other garbidge, now, you couldn’t ask for anything nicer.”
“I could,” said the Deer firmly, “much nicer.” [pgs. 24-25]
Georgie’s father trains Georgie in the art of escaping from dogs. He then has Georgie recite the maneuvers.
“Now, son,” he said firmly, “your mother is in a very nervous state and you are not to add to her worries by taking unnecessary risks or by carelessness. No dawdling and no foolishness. Keep close to the road but well off it. Watch your bridges and your crossings. What do you do when you come to a bridge?”
“I hide well,” answered Georgie, “and wait a good long time. I look all around for Dogs. I look up the road for cars and down the road for cars. When everything’s clear I run across – fast. I hide again and look around to be sure I’ve not been seen. Then I go on. The same thing for crossings.”
“Good,” said Father. “Now recite your Dogs.”
Little Georgie closed his eyes and dutifully recited, “Fat-Man-at-the-Crossroads: two Mongrels; Good Hill Road: Dalmatian; house on Long Hill: Collie, noisy, no wind; Norfield Church corner: Police Dog, stupid, no nose; On the High Ridge, red farmhouse: Bulldog and Setter, both fat, don’t bother; farmhouse with the big barns: Old Hound, very dangerous. . .” and so on. He recited every dog on the route clear up to Danbury way. He did it without a mistake and swelled with pride at Father’s approving nod.
“Excellent,” said Father. “Now do you remember your checks and doublings?” Little Georgie closed his eyes again and rattled off, quite fast, “Sharp right and double left, double left double right, dead stop and back flip, right jump, left jump, false trip, and briar dive.”
“Splendid,” said Father. “Now attend carefully. Size up your Dog; don’t waste speed on a plodder, you may need it later. If he’s a rusher, check, double, and freeze. Your freeze, by the way, is still rather bad. You have a tendency to flick your left ear; you must watch that.” [pgs. 36-38]
After *SPOILER* everyone on the hill believes that Georgie is dead, they mourn him and remember how polite and cheerful he was.
The degree of civilization in Rabbit Hill is similar to that of humans. All of the animals have conversations with one another (although never with people), they live in miniature houses with beds and kitchens, and they have council meetings when all of the animals come together and voice their opinions on different policies.
The customary greeting from one animal to another is “Good day and good luck to you.”
An illustration shows a horse shoe hanging over one of the animals’ front door.
Georgie’s Uncle Analdas is something of a trouble maker. After Georgie *SPOILER* is hit by the car and taken in by the folks, Uncle Analdas works the little animals up into a frenzy by telling them that the folks have taken Georgie hostage and are probably torturing him. Although Georgie’s father tries to contradict him and calm things down, Uncle Analdas continues to make up his stories and incite rebellion. And he very nearly destroys the whole community on Rabbit Hill before Georgie returns to them in full health. I found this whole episode to be a great example of how dangerous lies and gossip can be.
At the end of the story, the folks build a little garden area where the animals may come to eat. They also erect a statue…
Willie’s voice was hushed and breathless. “Oh, Mole,” he said. “Oh, Mole, it’s so beautiful. It’s him, Mole, it’s him – the Good Saint!”
“Him – of Assisi?” asked the Mole.
“Yes, Mole, our Saint. The good St. Francis of Assisi – him that’s loved us and protected us Little Animals time out of mind – and, oh, Mole, it’s so beautiful! He’s all out of stone, Mole, and his face is so kind and so sad. He’s got a long robe on, old and poor like, you can see the patches on it.
“And all around his feet are the Little Animals. They’re us, Mole, all out of stone. There’s you and me and there’s all the Birds and there’s Little Georgie and Porkey and the Fox – even old Lumpy the Hop Toad. And the Saint’s hands are held out in front of him sort of kind – like blessing things.” [pg.122]
‘Tarnation’, ‘dingblasted’ and ‘shucks’ are each used several times and ‘gumdinged’ is used once.
Conclusion. A sweet story for those of you who don’t mind talking animals.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret