The Rabbits Picture Book Essay

Transcript of The Rabbits by John Marsden & Shaun Tan

The Rabbits By John Marsden... ...and Shaun Tan The Rabbits is a picture book centered on the theme of colonialization. The story is told from the perspective of those being colonized, presumably Australian Aboriginals, illustrated as brown lemurs. The British colonizers are illustrated
as rabbits. The storyline follows the typical historical
progression of colonization, moving from
friendship, to a sense of curiosity until the
inevitable violence and all-out conquering
takes place. In true Shaun Tan form, the illustrations are as bizzare as they are meaningful. Text is often positioned in an
atypical manner so as to emphasize
its Meaning. The surreal images serve to convey the state of perplexity that the aboriginals are in. The Rabbits challenges the preconceived notions that I had about picture books. My initial belief that picture books were for children ended while reading The Rabbits when the colonizers slaughtered the natives and stole their land. The theme and illustrations would suit middle school readers very well. The reality is young adolescents, boys in particular, are drawn in by violence. I think that The Rabbits effectively portrays conflict. This would pull in middle school readers while hopefully educating them about the hazards of war. It is these images that, while confusing initially, will cause young adult readers to think at a deeper level than they would with more common illustrations. Marsden is a native of Austrailia, a former British colony, and primarily writes books directed towards young adults. One of his most commonly addressed themes is violence in society. This is quite prevelant in The Rabbits. He is one of the most decorated young adult authors, having won every major writing award in Australia for young people’s fiction. He was also nominated for the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Shaun Tan is a fellow Australian, famous for his unique illustrations. Also critically acclaimed, Tan uses his original artwork to compliment Marsden's social stances strong The Rabbits is sure to engage young adult readers and challenge them to think critically about colonialism, an important theme even today.

Full transcript

The Rabbits

The Rabbits, written by John Marsden, is partly allegorical fable about colonisation, told from the viewpoint of the colonised. An unseen narrator describes the coming of ‘rabbits’ in the most minimal detail, an encounter that is at first friendly and curious, but later darkens as it becomes apparent that the visitors are actually invaders. The style of the book is deliberately sparse and strange, with both text and image conveying an overall sense of bewilderment and anxiety as native numbat-like creatures witness environmental devastation under the wheels of a strange new culture.

 > Click here for further comment about The Rabbits.

 > Click here for a interview about The Rabbits from 1998.

‘The meeting on the hill’ acrylic, gouache, ink and coloured pencil.

‘They came by water’ Oil on canvas.

‘The building of the houses’ acrylic, gouache and coloured pencil.

‘They ate our grass’ gouache and coloured pencil.

Comments on The Rabbits

The parallels with a real history of colonisation in Australia and around the world are obvious, and based on detailed research, in spite of the overt surrealism of the imagery and the absence of direct references. It was named Picture Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council, which in part generated some controversy due to it’s confronting themes, and was attacked on several occasions for being ‘politically correct propaganda’, but only by right wing conservatives of course. In spite of this (or because of it), the book went on to win numerous awards in Australia, the US and UK, and is studied widely in secondary schools. It would seem that some of my concepts and designs were unacknowledged inspiration for a section of the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, although I’ve never been able to find out if this is true.

 One reason for the initial controversy is that The Rabbits is a picture book, and therefore thought to be children’s literature, and wrongly assumed to be didactic, whereas it had been originally conceived as a book for older readers, and generally difficult to categorise. Some children may get a lot out of it, but generally it defies most picture book conventions and is not necessarily a good choice for pleasant bedtime reading!

‘The great billabong’ acrylic, gouache and coloured pencil.

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