By Deborah and James Howe, Illustrated by Alan Daniel
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (December 20, 2011)
Available in: paperback, hardcover, audiobook CD, Kindle, NOOK
Mystery with a dry wit.
Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery is a classic children’s book that suffers no pains from its original 1979 publication. The sage, dry wit of the narrator, a lovable dog named Harold, carries a timeless humor that caters as much to adults as to children. And Chester the cat is a shrewd devil and clever counterpoint to the waggish Harold.
As the title character, Bunnicula is unexpected: neither cuddly nor much in appearance. But he casts a long shadow, which brilliantly hones the tension and fright of this mystery. Genius.
Alan Daniel’s illustrations are masterworks themselves. Spare line art is suitably funny, sweet and haunting, and seems to hark from an age when children’s illustrators were taken more seriously. It’s obvious he was given the direction to create artwork—a stark contrast to the cartoons favored in much of today’s commercially focused chapter books.
As a writer, I also have to mention the excellent use of the homophone steak and stake in a critical scene. I love that newly independent readers can see the misunderstanding of the same word in action. The playfulness shows kids how language can be creative, fun and clever.
Normally, I wouldn’t have reviewed this book because it has one foot very definitely in the middle grade novel category: the publisher lists it as good for ages 8—12, the type is small and it carries a more mature sense of humor. But it also sits very squarely in the older chapter book genre with its illustrations, animal narrator and short length. Rather than quibble, I’ve reviewed Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery because it is so sublime.
But beware. There are more Bunnicula books, and they all sit squarely in the middle grade category as they are much longer books. As such, I view this as a terrific bridge between the two genres, best read when a child is ready to approach middle grade novels but is not yet up to the task. If he or she loves Bunnicula, what a great way to jump into the longer, more challenging reading—with a known friend as the guide.
What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….