Yesterday afternoon I spent some time browsing the internet for an Easter book to buy for three year old Josie, my friend Sandy’s sweet grand-daughter. Josie delights in sitting on her grandma’s lap while Sandy reads to her. The Olivia stories are her favorite. While looking for an Easter tale about Olivia pig and her adventures, I was surprised to find so many Easter books for children. I bet there are several hundred!
Some were familiar stories I read to my son, Gavin when he was a toddler – The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter), The Run Away Bunny (Margaret Wise Brown), The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams). Others are newer titles, Max’s Chocolate Chicken (Rosemary Wells), The Easter Story (Brian Wildsmith), The Easter Egg (Jan Brett) and The Easter Swallow (Vickie Howie).
Then I came across a book I remember from my own childhood, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Dubose Heyward (1885 -1940). It is a charming story about not just one Easter bunny, but five. Young bunnies are taught if they are to be chosen by Grandfather Rabbit to be one of the five Easter bunnies, they must learn to be wise, kind and swift. At the center of the story is a little brown haired country bunny. Because she looks different from the white citified bunnies she is set apart from the others. She becomes mother to 21 baby bunnies, and it seems her dream of ever being chosen one of the five Easter bunnies is gone. But Grandfather Rabbit has watched as she lovingly raised her babies to productive, happy lives and eventually chooses Country Bunny to be one of the five Easter bunnies. There's a challenge to overcome, but ultimately Country Bunny will hand out the best Easter egg of all.
The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes was first published in 1939, and in a subtle way Dubose spoke to both discrimination, and the lofty achievement of women.
But there is much more about Heyward. As readers and writers we are always learning something new. So it was for me yesterday when for the first time I connected that the author of a book I read as a child is the same author whose book Porgy , a premier major southern novel to portray blacks without dissension, was the basis for the great Gershwin musical, Porgy and Bess. Dubose Heyward also wrote the lyrics to the show’s renowned songs Summertime , My Man's Gone Now, Bess, You Is My Woman Now, and half the arias.
Heyward, according to University Press of Mississippi, was as a young man immersed in the Gullah culture of his city. Especially through his mother, a performer and interpreter of Gullah life in folktale and song, he discovered the gateway into the fascinating world he would immortalize in the characters of Porgy, Bess, Maria, and other denizens of Charleston’s Catfish Row. In Heyward’s biography, DUBOSE HEYWARD A Charleston Gentleman and the World of Porgy and Bess by James M. Hutchisson , he is seen as a southerner who overcame social restrictions to perceive humanity beyond the class and color lines.
Known as the author of Porgy, and the only children’s book he wrote, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, Heyward was co-founder of the Poetry Society of South Carolina, the first regional poetry circle in America. To read Heyward's poem DUSK visit http://www.bartleby.com/300/2552.html
And for dear Josie, well, I’ve decided to save Olivia for another time, and give her a book for Easter about a faithful country bunny who is brave and true.
*** For more about Dubose Heyward (poet, playwright, lyricist, novelist and author of a book for children) visit http://myhero.com/go/hero.asp?hero=heyward