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A Child's Winter Triptych
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The Mitten (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, NY, 1989) is one of those picture books that enables housebound rabbits and humans to enjoy winter adventures without having to leave the warmth of the warren. Jan Brett, the author and illustrator, adapted this funny, improbable story from a Ukrainian folktale. In it a boy has dropped his mitten in the snow and one by one the woodland creatures move into its warm confines. Each animal respects what is special about his neighbors: "The mole, the rabbit, the hedgehog, and the owl were not pleased. There was no room left, but when they saw [the badger’s] diggers, they gave him the thumb. "They even make room for a fox and a very big bear. But, when one more animal wants to share the mitten too....

I like picture books with lots of details so that you notice something different every time you pick it up. Each page of this marvelous book contains a triptych, which shows the main adventure as well as what the boy is up to and who the next mitten dweller will be. All of the creatures look like real animals, and each one’s expression is appropriately thrilled by the sight of the shelter, or wary or critical of the other mitten guests.

Purchase The Mitten Online...

Little Bear Lost (Philomel Books, NY, 1989) is another delightfully drawn, delightfully well told story. This one, written and illustrated by Jane Hissey, takes place indoors where a group of stuffed toy animals are having difficulty playing hide-and-seek because they tend to forget to select someone to be "it." The animals are drawn so lovingly that you’d expect to be able to feel the plush of their different furs right on the page. A trio of different aged teddy bears, a duck and a fuzzy, brave Rabbit are the main players who are joined by lots of other toys when Little Bear ends up playing their game too well.

Frolic’s Dance (Soundprints Corp., Norwalk, CT, 1989) is part of the Smithsonian Wild Heritage Collection’s "read and play" approach to learning. Through books, taped readings, and toys, this marketing play seeks to teach children about wild animals and their environments through fact and story.

Frolic is a young snowshoe rabbit, who, after outrunning one of her many predators, makes friends with a mountain goat, a sea otter and a moose calf named Beezle and learns more about her world. (The last two characters have books/tapes/toys of their own.) In helping to rescue Beezle when they are frightened by a bear, Frolic also learns more about herself. Tom Chapin's taped narration helps make Valerie Harms' simplistic text more exciting. (I passed on the Frolic toy.) Although I like the cover illustration and the concept of capturing the rabbit's dance (that most of us who've shared our lives with rabbits have been fortunate enough to see), I wish the illustrator had done more on it. Still, the whole thing works as a package.

This is just an observation, but, in storybooks, whether as prey & predator or as friends, there seems to be a natural association of rabbits with bears. You don't see many stories about cats and rabbits or bears and mice. It must be that both bears and rabbits have more recently made the crossover from the wild into our homes—as live, reciprocating house rabbits and inanimate, innocuous teddy bears (the only kind of bear that can be kept indoors).

And both seem to like to snuggle when it's cold outside.

More book recommendations are also available.

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