Preschool children all over the world are familiar with the cautionary tale of Little Bunny Foo Foo. But what grudge did that rabbit harbor against the field mice?
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Perhaps they weren't as innocent as we've all been led to assume. Cori Doerrfeld examines the other side of the story in her new picture book, Little Bunny Foo Foo: The Real Story—see who you're cheering for at the end. Here she talks about how she came up with idea of turning an old story on its head, and what her most important reader thinks of her book.
I read your book to my 9-year-old son and he loved it! Did you expect it to reach an older audience?
I used to make little paperback versions that my husband and I would print off the computer and sell at comic conventions, and it was always adults who would buy it! It does seem to cater to older kids and adults because it has a little bit of a twist that takes it from being candy sweet to having a little bit of the macabre. So I'm not totally surprised, but I did expect it to be more for kids who were 6 or 7. That's great to hear even 9-year-old boys like it.
This book is about power and fairness, two qualities children are always very aware of. Were you the kind of kid who always spoke out when things didn't feel fair?
You know, I was the oldest of three siblings, and when you're the oldest, life is always a little bit unfair. I think I started out by voicing my opinion more, but eventually I kept hearing, "You're the oldest, you should have known better!" Maybe subconsciously this is why I wrote this book.
I know at school I was very much about making the teacher happy—I was more subdued. But as I got older, I got more and more vocal. And when I worked as a preschool teacher, I really wanted things to be fair for all the kids. Now with my own kids, I think a lot about how they're being treated—I give them choices, like do you want chicken nuggets or noodles for lunch—it's such a big thing for them. You know, you're making me think about this much more deeply than I ever would have!
Where did you get the idea of turning the song about Little Bunny Foo Foo on its head?
I used to work with another preschool teacher, and she was singing that song, and she had Little Bunny Foo Foo turn into a monster instead of the goon I'd always heard. The kids got really excited about monsters.
I started thinking about that, how Little Bunny Foo Foo was an interesting character—why was she bopping these mice? It just got into my head. It felt like a fun thing to work on. I really like monsters. I loved Where the Wild Things Are when I was growing up, and I always wanted to paint a monster. And rabbits are always showing up in my art. It's one of those things that just kind of happened.
Which did you create first, the illustrations or the text?
Typically I do start with the pictures first. Once that's established, I go in and put the text where it fits the best. I think I do this mainly because I've always been an illustrator first and a writer second. I'm always thinking in images, almost like a movie in my head. Obviously the words have to be there in case you don't know the song, but that's something very important in a picture book—the story should be in the pictures as much as in the words.
Does your 3-year-old daughter like the book?
Yes, she was really excited to get her own copy. She loves looking at the different pictures and seeing what the mice are doing, and the owl. That's the biggest test for me—does my 3-year-old ask me to read it again? Does she pick it in her nightly round of books? That makes me feel good.
Andi Diehn lives in a house full of books in Enfield, N.H. Find more of her work at andidiehn.com.