One of the most offbeat and winning picture books of 2010, Bunny Days chronicles the misadventures of a flock of bunnies that lives on Mr. and Mrs. Goat’s farm. They by turn get splattered with mud, are sucked up into a vacuum cleaner and find their cottony tails lopped off! Tragedy? Not at all, not when Bear is around: He always “knows just what to do.” He pops them in the washing machine and hangs them out to dry, unzips the vacuum cleaner bag and blows the dust off the bunnies (and fixes Mrs. Goat’s vacuum) and re-attaches the bunny tails—“very gentl[y]”—with an old sewing machine.
This serene slapstick is played out in a cozy countryside, in muted blues, browns and greens and with lots of rounded shapes. Kirkus’ starred review praised this book for its “total charm.” Author/illustrator Tao Nyeu took some time to chat about her bunnies.
Kirkus referred to the bunnies’ misadventures as “mechanized mayhem.” Where did those scenarios come from?
It all started with the image of bunnies hanging on the clothesline. That was seed. Then I had to figure out how they got there. So the “Muddy Bunnies” was the first story. Dial liked [it] and wanted to expand it to a full picture book, so we talked about making up more stories. So the obvious theme of domestic appliances plus bunnies was further developed.
Your style has a very distinctive look. Who would you say are your influences?
I think one of my biggest influences is Richard Scarry. His Funniest Storybook Ever is/was my favorite book. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re in for a laugh! I think it really got me into the funny zone. His humor never gets tired for me. I also really loved Shel Silverstein and Green Eggs and Ham.
To my mind, Bunny Days has the best single line of 2010: “What a bother. The vacuum is broken again.” It says so much about the goats and bunnies’ relationship.
The goats try really hard to be kind to the environment and their fellow neighbors, but you know, accidents happen! They always do their best to remedy the situation and make sure it doesn’t happen again. The bunnies are so small, though, and they are always hanging about in the most unlikely places. You really can’t blame the goats for getting them into trouble. That’s life!
It’s a very good thing they have Bear, who always “knows just what to do.” Where does his endless patience come from?
He’s seen it all, so nothing really rattles him. When he breathes deeply, takes a seat and sips his tea, there is always a solution. I think there is also a kind of confidence that comes with being at the top of the food chain!
I can see the Shel Silverstein influence! I’d like to talk a bit more about your writing process. How did you work out your characters’ back story?
I think it definitely develops along with the visual [story]. Once they exist on paper it’s easier for my mind to make them alive with accessories like scarves or vacuums. And once they have those things, they can wander off to wherever they’re going. Sometimes after they wander around for a bit, they pick up a little friend like a bunny.
Do you ever imagine doing a longer work?
Yes indeed! I’d love to do a graphic novel one day. It will happen, one of these days.
It’s clear in Bunny Days that you have a fabulous sense of situational comedy and timing, but, after all, it is a picture book for younger children. Did you find yourself having to blunt your humor at all?
No, not really. I think my humor is pretty unsubtle. Me and the 3-to-5–year-old set are probably on the same wavelength…I have often been asked, “Have you grown up?” Answer: um, I guess not.
I don’t think I have to blunt my humor very much because if I think it is gross I won’t use it. For example, in “Bunny Tails,” where the bunnies get their tails cut off, I had initially thought that they would get their ears cut off. Because those are the most projecting bits, right? It makes the most sense. But even I thought that was too gross, so I opted for tails. Tails make a much cleaner cut.
What do you have coming up next? More bunnies? Or perhaps something less fluffy?
No fluff this time! The next book takes place under water. It’s about two friends, an octopus and a squid. They are two humble creatures that quibble and quabble and have good times together. They don’t have big brains, but they have big hearts. And of course, they have all the fun of having all those limbs.
For a complete list of children’s picture books featured in Kirkus’ Best of 2010, click here.
For a complete list of great children’s books for animal lovers featured in Kirkus’ Best of 2010, click here.
Dial / January / 9780803733305 / $16.99 / ages 3-7