November 20, 2023

When Rabbit Was a Lion

Written and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
August 2023
A rabbit in a red-striped shirt lives in the backyard of our narrator, a little girl with whom he sometimes has tea. Though Rabbit and the little girl know that he doesn't like parties, he wants to make one for his friends, whom he does like.
From When Rabbit Was a Lion, written and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
So invitations are sent out for a costume party and Rabbit busies himself cleaning and decorating, baking and preparing his own costume. And when the jitters pop in that his party might be a flop, his human friend asks him, "What if it's good?".
All Rabbit's friends arrive, costumed and lively. There is music and dancing, laughter and conversation, and he is so pleased that his friends are happy. But, though he does partake a little, it grows too loud and too boisterous for Rabbit and he slips away for a bit of quiet. His friends, realizing that Rabbit has withdrawn, find a way to have fun and include him without causing Rabbit discomfort.
From When Rabbit Was a Lion, written and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
This could be a picture book of restraint, in colour and in story, much as how an introvert such as Rabbit might be seen. But, Eugenie Fernandes knows that Rabbit is more than his introversion. He is also a friend, and enjoys the company of his friends, though in moderation. So, that joy of friendship comes through in Eugenie Fernandes's paintings, resplendent in joyful colours of warm yellows and greens, and bright in its diverse palette. Rabbit is not sad because he needs to withdraw; he is just taking care of himself. And isn't it nice that his friends are kind enough to want to make him happy too? Eugenie Fernandes's artwork tells us this.
From When Rabbit Was a Lion, written and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
Thank you, Eugenie Fernandes, for giving a sensitive and authentic voice to the many introverts who have had to fit into a predominantly extroverted world. As a strong introvert who has learned to fit in as needed and become more comfortable in social situations–and then withdrawing to my comfort zone in order to recover–When Rabbit Was a Lion speaks to me and undoubtedly to many children who've been told to be more social and that they need to get out more. Children need to see that not everyone craves attention and busyness, loudness and interaction. And they need to not be misunderstood because they are different from others in their circle. I'm very glad that Rabbit's friends are astute enough to realize that his need for quiet is not him being shy or angry, depressed or stuck-up, or even interpreted as a criticism of how they like to socialize. But socializing takes energy from introverts, unlike for extroverts who are energized by social interactions. For Rabbit, some quiet gives him fortitude. And by giving Rabbit the voice to speak his feelings and the friends who are willing to listen, Eugenie Fernandes has honoured the introverts who are so often overlooked.

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