Written by Charlotte Zolotow, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
Harper & Row, 1962
Awards: Caldecott Honor
“Mr. Rabbit,” said the little girl, “I want help.”
The plot in a nutshell: A rabbit helps a little girl find the perfect birthday gift for her mother
The little girl tells Mr. Rabbit that it’s her mother’s birthday and she’s trying to come up with a good idea for a gift. He asks her what her mother likes and she tells him she likes red. He tells her she can’t give her red, so she suggests something red. Mr. Rabbit suggests a few things and when he mentions apples, she agrees and collects a few apples. But she wants something else as well and adds that she also likes yellow, which leads them to bananas. After that, green leads them to pears and blue leads them to grapes. Once she’s collected all these fruits, Mr. Rabbit suggests a basket, which she already has, so she arranges the fruit in a basket and heads home to give it to her mother.
Author Charlotte Zolotow had a lot of inspiration when writing this book. It got its start as a simple book about colors and different things that are each color. Then she found out her daughter was trying to come up with an idea for a birthday gift for her. Add in the classic film Harvey and its magical rabbit character and you get this story, which adds all of those components together. In addition to her many picture books, Ms. Zolotow was also an editor and publisher at Harper & Row and became the inspiration behind the Charlotte Zolotow Award, which is the author equivalent of the Caldecott Medal, recognizing quality in picture book text.
The artwork for this book comes from the legendary Maurice Sendak. The illustrations resemble impressionist paintings you would see on a museum wall, in muted pastel colors. Since the story text consists solely of the conversation between these two characters, the pictures carry the action, as they walk together and collect gifts. And here’s where the book sort of falls apart for me. There’s a little too much repetition in the back and forth between these two, making it feel slow and plodding. When I read it to my husband, his response was that it’s the kind of book you hope your child won’t fall in love with, so you won’t have to read it over and over. That’s a good assessment. I like the idea and the artwork, but the actual story just got tedious.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the best gifts have lots of thought and love put into them.