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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare’

- - Monday, April 1, 2013

GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU
By Sam McBratney
Candlewick Press, $15.99, 32 pages

THE ADVENTURES OF LITTLE NUTBROWN HARE
By Sam McBratney
Candlewick Press, $16.99, 72 pages

Like many other parents, my wife and I think that building a child's library creates an important gateway to acquiring a lifelong interest, passion and love for reading. Thus far, our 4-year-old son, Andrew, seems to enjoy his copious amount of books. We hope this early passion for literature continues to grow and develop.

Yet while there are a great many books written for children, there isn't an equal measure of many great children's books. For every classic story written by Maurice Sendak ("Where The Wild Things Are"), Robert McCloskey ("Make Way for Ducklings") and Margaret Wise Brown ("Goodnight Moon"), there's a modern travesty like "Heather Has Two Mommies" and "Vegan is Love." Alas, children's literature has become overtly political and exceedingly preachy in recent years.

That's not to say good books aren't still being produced. Award winners and runners-up for the Caldecott, Newbery and Carnegie Medals, as well as the now-defunct Nestle Smarties Book Prize, deserve considerable recognition. As well, the American Library Association (ALA) Notable Books for Children has released its annual list of top-tier children's literature since 1940.Which brings me to Sam McBratney's wonderful, fun-filled adventures of the Nutbrown Hares. These books are a rare throwback to classic children's literature, in which simple, albeit memorable stories, lush artwork and sensible values reigned supreme. In today's oversized and underwhelming children's book market, the Northern Irish author's magnificent series stands head and shoulders above most others.The first book, "Guess How Much I Love You" (1994), was deservedly included on the 1996 ALA list. It's the story of two rabbits, Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare, wandering through a forest trying to answer the former's important question, "Guess how much I love you?" From mere outstretched arms to "across the river and over the hills," Big Nutbrown Hare adds just a touch extra to his smaller counterpart's declarations of love and fondness. When Little Nutbrown Hare begins to get sleepy, he says, "I love you right up to the moon." The bigger rabbit smiles and says in a whisper, "I love you right up to the moon — and back."

"Guess How Much I Love You," complete with beautiful watercolor illustrations by Anita Jeram, has sold more than 28 million copies worldwide. It has won awards from the American Booksellers, Child Magazine, Parenting Magazine and Publishers Weekly. In a 2007 online survey, the National Education Association included Mr. McBratney's book in its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children." (It placed 64th among many classic and modern favorites.)Astonishingly, it would be 13 years until a sequel was written. In 2007, Mr. McBratney and Ms. Jeram released two new books: "When I'm Big" and "Colors Everywhere." This was followed by "Let's Play in the Snow" in 2008, and "A Surprise for the Nutbrown Hares" in 2009. The books take place during the four calendar seasons, and follow the same upbeat and joyful format as "Guess How Much I Love You." Whether it be the foibles of growing up, bright summer colors, playing tricks in the winter snow or the mysterious "box monster" who shows up in the autumn, young children and their parents will laugh and enjoy these stories together.

The most recent release, "The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare," contains four new stories about Little Nutbrown Hare's journeys in the forest. Now that he's getting older, some excursions are done without Big Nutbrown Hare by his side. But the two rabbits are happily reunited throughout the book, discussing each adventure with a sense of wonderment.

The first story is about the Hiding Tree, "because it was hollow inside and you can easily hide in there," and a game of hide-and-seek. The second story takes the Nutbrown Hares to some "very tasty" plants on Cloudy Mountain, and escaping the mountain's thick mist. The third story deals with the Far Field, and Little Nutbrown Hare's discovery of "an interesting hole beneath the trees." Although Big Nutbrown Hare warns him not get too close, he eventually comes back to the hole — only to hear "his own little voice inside his head, and it was telling him to be careful."

In the fourth story, Little Nutbrown Hare asks Big Nutbrown Hare, "Can you guess the place I like best in the whole world?" After the big rabbit lists their recent adventures, the little rabbit answers, "Home is my best place of all." As Little Nutbrown Hare falls asleep, Big Nutbrown Hare whispers, "And where you are is the best place in the whole world for me."

The Nutbrown Hare book series has delighted children for nearly two decades. "Guess How Much I Love You" was Andrew's first book; he has enjoyed them all, including "The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare." I hope he always has fond memories of these books, and ultimately shares them with his own children. Nothing could make his parents happier.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a contributor to The Washington Times.