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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire, written by Polly Horvath and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Groundwood Books, Random House. 2012. $14.95 ages

"She didn't know how to make the other children like her, and she felt she constantly had to defend herself from unspoken accusations about a way of life she hadn't chosen to begin with. Well, she thought, who needs them? I bet none of them know how to make plumbing repairs. I bet none of them have read Pride and Prejudice. Twice."

Everyone in Polly Horvath's newly created animal and human fantasy world is eccentric, I think! Their story made me smile again, and then again. I found it happening all the way through the reading and I am so happy to have spent my Saturday with Mr. and Mrs. Bunny and Madeline, and various and sundry other decidedly weird characters.

It's Hornby Island (and I am within ferry distance of it, for heaven's sake). Madeline lives there with her parents, who have come from the United States with dreams of finding enlightenment, and an unwillingness to work or send their daughter to school. Madeline is the adult in this family, making sure that meals are made and eaten, that household chores are completed, and even earning the money needed to buy candles for Luminara and to sustain the family when her mother's sand dollar art business slows:

"As nature often has it, they had a child who did not want to join them in their all-day pursuit of enlightenment and a better mung bean. Instead, she became very good at cooking and cleaning and sewing and bookkeeping and minor household repairs. She was the one who changed the lightbulbs."

It is somehow not surprising that foxes drive cars on this island and establish their own rabbit recycling business, that marmots in disguise can eat at The Olde Spaghetti Factory and become enamored of the garlic bread, that bunnies can be detectives and must appear before a bunny council to defend themselves against any perceived wrongdoings, and even that a novice bunny author could pen a memoir that needs to be translated by a skilled and honored writer such as Polly Horvath herself:

"Mrs. Bunny lives in Rabbitville, in the Cowichan Valley, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
She is married to Mr. Bunny and has twelve children. This is her first novel."

When Madeline's parents are kidnapped by foxes in need of a code-breaker (their Uncle Runyon is such a man) and a ransom note is left, but no clue to their whereabouts, she enlists the help of the newest detectives in the area. While with the Bunnys she learns much about family life, about patience and about counting on others when the going gets tough.

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny are worthy characters, humorous and loyal. They do all they can to give Madeline comfort and security as she deals with her parents' disappearance. When they must face the Bunny Council and the complaint about consorting with humans, Mr. Bunny has this to say:

"She is not our friend because she is..."And here Mr. Bunny paused for dramatic effect. He paused so long that several councilbunnies went out for coffee. One had time to order a short decaf double shot no whip mocha iced frappuccino to go. Mr Bunny paused so long that when the councilbunny's coffee came, he had time to change his mind to a venti semi-skim soy no sugar caramel macchiato with no whip but double caramel and a reduced-fat skinny poppy seed and lemon muffin, hot, no butter. When the councilbunnies got back, Mr. Bunny was almost done pausing. The sipped their coffee and turned their attention back to him."

I haven't even mentioned Sophie Blackall's illustrations. They give visual life to the characters and add power to some of the swift plot changes. I love Mr. Bunny's platform shoes, which give him enough height to drive a Smart car and the warm familiarity of Blackall's characters. The energetic dialogue, the quick pace and the wit in the words have me hoping that this is not their only tale. I would love to be privy to their next case; now that they are experienced and successful!

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