It’s a sad fact that cute, furry pets tend to be more popular that those of the scaly variety. People can’t wait to cuddle cats, dogs and rabbits, but are less inclined to cosy up to lizards and snakes.
As the proud owners of a leopard gecko, our family understand the appeal of a reptilian pal and we were delighted to read new book Rita’s Rabbit – a welcome celebration of the benefits of a non-furry friend.
This witty tale about a girl who longs for a rabbit only to receive a “scrawny, scratchy” bearded dragon for her birthday is the debut picture book of award-winning author and poet Laura Mucha and rising star illustrator Hannah Peck.
Rita initially feels disappointed with her new pet Spike but after a run-in with a badly behaved rabbit belonging to her neighbour, she realises that cute doesn’t mean kind and she wouldn’t swap her lizard for anything else.
Laura started her career as a lawyer before studying trapeze and face painting, and publishing children’s poems. Her debut book for adults was Love Factually: We Need To Talk About Love, which was described by Richard Curtis as ‘much better and more useful than my film’.
To celebrate the publication of Rita’s Rabbit, we asked her to share the books, author and illustrators who have inspired her…
MY FAVOURITE… CLASSIC PICTURE BOOK
Perhaps because I’ve been researching colonisation for a non-fiction book I’m writing, my current favourite is The Conquerors by David McKee (£6.99, Andersen Press). It raises important questions about conflict and explores the way the ‘conquered’ influence the people doing the conquering – whether the conquerors are aware of it or not. It’s made me think a lot about the cultural legacy of the conquered around the world and the extent to which we do (or don’t) recognise that. Available from Amazon
MY FAVOURITE… RECENT READ
Favourite recent reads include both classics (like Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak) and contemporary books (such as All the Ways to be Smart by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys, and Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and Vashti Harrison).
One that I’m particularly enjoying is The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee (£7.99, Scallywag Press). It’s genius. I love Agee’s clever use of the page and the hilarious juxtaposition of what the character thinks is going on the other side of the wall and what’s actually happening; as well as the reality of his own side, which isn’t quite as perfect as he thinks.
Agee encourages both children and adults to think about what ‘walls’ they may have constructed in their mind, and the often stark contrast between judgement, fear and reality. Available from Amazon
MY FAVOURITE… CHILDREN’S AUTHOR
I really admire the work of writers like Lynley Dodd, Tony Mitton and Julia Donaldson who combine cracking stories with brilliant poetic technique. It’s difficult to combine tight metre and clever rhyme with a brilliant plot, however these authors make it seem easy.
But my current favourite author is Mary Ann Hoberman. I’ve recently been reading and rereading her picture book, A House is a House for Me (£5.74, Penguin USA), for months. Her use of language is flawless and it’s a brilliant reminder that, while every creature has its own particular ‘house’, our planet is home to us all – a particularly important message in the face of climate change. Available from Amazon
MY FAVOURITE… CHILDREN’S ILLUSTRATOR
I have a lot of respect for illustrators. Probably because I spent years taking short courses at Central Saint Martins, The Slade, and The House of Illustration in an attempt to be able to illustrate my own children’s writing, only to decide that I wasn’t good enough.
I think Hannah Peck has done a phenomenal job of illustrating both humans and animals in our book, Rita’s Rabbit. It’s not easy to draw a bearded dragon, particularly in a variety of positions and emotions… The result is fantastic.
I love Satoshi Kitamura, Anna Walker, Oliver Jeffers and Dapo Adeola, whose energy bursts and bubbles through his artwork. My current favourite is Pete Oswald because of the humour, skill and style in his artwork. His limitless range of character expressions is incredible – there’s nothing he can’t turn into a compelling character. And he most recently did that with a seed in The Bad Seed (£6.99, HarperCollins Children’s). Buy from Amazon
MY FAVOURITE… CHILDREN’S BOOK CHARACTER
As a child I grew up reading both English and Polish books and my favourite character was Stefek Burczymucha in a Polish book of the same name by Anna Konopnicka. I still have the copy I read thousands of times as a child.
Stefek spends all his time showing off about how brave he is (written in Konopnicka’s excellent poetry), but at the end, we discover he’s petrified of a tiny mouse. It’s a simple encapsulation of the difference between how people portray themselves to others versus their actual way of being – a lesson that’s never too early to learn.
Rita’s Rabbit by Laura Mucha and Hannah Peck is out now. £6.99 (paperback), Faber Children’s. Buy from Amazon