Tell me about the rabbits…
I spotted this on my mother’s sideboard the other day and saw the magic recipe – John Marsden and Shaun Tan. Wow. How had I not known this book existed? Well, it’s 11 years old and back in 1998 I was busy roaming a mosquito-ridden uni campus (Howdy, Newcastle!) and probably didn’t have picture books on my radar. (Mind you I was probably reading Marsden’s ‘Tomorrow’ series, so you know, just not that ‘with it’ a person).
My mum is using The Rabbits in her history classes. It’s a simple but sensational allegory for the evils of colonisation in general, and of the arrival of the First Fleet in Australia in particular. The Rabbits arrive to a beautiful land with their machines, strange foods and customs, their diseases and greed, and destroy the land and its inhabitants (a tree kangaroo/numbat kind of creature). Seriously, these fluffy white bunnies make those Fascist bastards from Watership Down look cuddly.
The artwork is amazing. It has essences of the future and the past, of fantasty and history. Tan imaginatively and effectively portrays the power and threat of the Rabbits and the helplessness of the Numbats. Some of the pictures echo the film classic Metropolis, others make me think of the portraits of Napoleon in the Louvre. They are surreal and fantastical, disturbing and inspiring. Seriously, if you haven’t discovered the immense talent of Shaun Tan, where have you been? (Possibly underground with the nasty rabbits from Efrafra) John Marsden’s words are pared down to their very souls – the whole text has about 100 words in it, but by gum if every one isn’t evocative, powerful and heartbreaking.
The 32 pages in this book gripped me, stirred me, left a tear in my eye and a sigh in my heart. If your local school library doesn’t have a copy… find them one.