Thursday, December 29, 2011

10. Squish Rabbit

Written & illustrated by Katherine Battersby
Viking, 2011
$12.99, ages 2 and up, 40 pages

A little bunny struggles to be heard in a world much bigger than him, in this tender, debut by Australia's Battersby.

Squish Rabbit, a floppy fellow with a saggy bottom and mismatched eyes, is so tiny that sometimes he isn't even noticed.

In fact, that's how he got his name.

One day he was bending over to marvel at a tiny red flower and a scaly-legged giant stepped on him.

Being wee, his body bounces back. But his heart? Well, the hurt of being overlooked doesn't go away.

It only gets worse, as magical things pass him by. A red balloon floats up over the sea just out of Squish's reach.

Worse yet, when he calls for help to catch it, the big rabbits don't hear or see him.

Poor Squish. He feels terribly alone.

So he plunks himself down on a cluster of red poppies and thinks about what he should do.

Quick to his feet, he grabs a swatch of blue plaid fabric, a needle and thread, and sews up a friend his size.

And for awhile, his stuffed friend, a bunny half his size, is enough to make him feel a part of something.

Dangling the toy in front of his body from a stick, Squish imagines following him in a game of chase.

Later, he poses the toy's paws just so, and leap frogs over him and for a game of hide-and-seek, he runs to hide.

But the bunny doesn't leap over him or chase after him, and soon Squish feels the loneliness creep back in.

Perhaps Squish should try playing with the cherry trees instead. At least he can reach them, unlike the balloon that got away.

The problem is once the cherries fall down, they don't get back up. They just lie there.

Well, seeing all of those cherries pile up at his feet was about all Squish could take.

Unaware that a squirrel was watching him a tree, Squish threw the biggest little tantrum he could muster.

And to top it off, he kicked a cherry as hard as he could.

The squirrel, however, thought Squish was inviting him to play. He jumped off the tree and went bounding after the cherry.

But with every bounce, the cherry got closer to the cliff where the balloon had been lost.

Oh no, the bitty squirrel doesn't seem to be slowing down!

Suddenly Squish's face turns to fright, and he waves his little arms and yells in his loudest little voice, "Stop!"

With that, the squirrel skids to a stop, right at the edge of the cliff. And for a moment, the two just look at each other.

Then, as if they'd always been friends, they begin playing all of the games neither of them could ever play alone.

And from that day on, Squish never minded being so little because his friends made him feel big enough.

Battersby's illustrations are little treasures on the page.

Each ink drawing (punctuated by splashes of watercolor or torn paper) is spare, but purposefully and expressively so.

She outlines Squish in quiet, thoughtful poses that say more than words can, and uses color to carry the theme of friendship along in a very poetic way.

Red, suggestive of comforting things, stripes the stockings where Squish sleeps, and colors the little flower, the balloon, the poppies and cherries.

Every illustration feels meticulously thought-out, underscoring the importance of Squish's feelings, his earnestness, and how central friendship is to his happiness.

There is little that is superfluous in Squish's life. He sees beauty and wonder, and longs for a basic yet wondrous thing: friendship. And readers, feel his longing too.

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