Friday, March 30, 2012

Porgy and Bess and a Country Bunny


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

4 comments:

Jennifer Rova said...

"Porgy" has an interesting history. Thanks for the informative essay. A sunny post especially on a rainy northern Idaho day. Having tried writing children's stories, I know it is hard.

Anonymous said...

Not only did this piece bring back many happy memories of times reading to my sons and now their children. And once again I learned something new that I can now share.........thank you so much!!!!!!

jm

elizabethbrinton said...

My life with Peter Rabbit has been rich and rewarding. In fact, most of the Beatrix Potter stories are still in my memory banks, word for word. Now I have something new to add to my bunny tales! Thank you so much for this post and for the brilliant idea to write about children's stories.

goldensylph said...

Porgy and Bess is currently on Broadway in a wonderful revival that will probably win some Tony awards. I saw it for the first time and was thrilled, though I knew the arias/music but not the story line. I was not aware of the information you included here. Thanks for sharing. You helped to enhance my love of the work.

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