‘What’s the matter?’ asked the little white rabbit.
‘Oh, I’m just thinking,’ replied the little black rabbit.
It was only recently that I was introduced to Garth Williams’ own written-and-illustrated children’s book, The Rabbits’ Wedding. It was love at first sight. Most modern readers, myself included, wouldn’t blink an eye at a black rabbit and a white rabbit tying the knot, but the story actually created quite a stir when it was published in 1958.
The controversy? Critics of the book claimed underlying themes of racial integration and interracial marriage. The issue was taken as far as the Alabama state legislature, where it was decided that the book would not be banned, but could only be displayed on “special reserve shelves” at state-run library facilities.
Obviously, much has changed since then, and no doubt this rabbits’ tale has delighted thousands of children. And what of the author’s choice of color and theme of “soft furry love”? As Williams himself said,
“I was completely unaware that animals with white fur, such as white polar bears and white dogs and white rabbits, were considered blood relations of white beings. I was only aware that a white horse next to a black horse looks very picturesque.”
That’s the beauty of writing for children. A story doesn’t have to be logical (animals getting married?) Illustrations don’t have to be realistic (dandelions in rabbits’ ears?) I’m quick to remind myself of this in regard to my own book, especially when adult readers comment on the storyline or illustrations. True, certain elements of Ajax are neither logical nor realistic – to an adult. But to a child? Why of course, it makes perfect sense.
Text copyright © 2015 Sarah E. Dautel