This is a short review of the The Rabbits (2000) written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan.
The Rabbits is not a book for young children. It is a true picture book in every sense.
It requires ‘reading’ the pictures as much as the text. The two go hand in hand to form the basis of critical literacy.
As an educator, The Rabbits is a wonderful way to teach colonialism (esp. of Canada) through a different cultural lens. The artwork by Shaun Tan is intentionally unfamiliar to ‘western’ eyes in order to demonstrate that different ethnic groups / cultures ‘see’ things differently to us: a ship looks enormous to someone that’s never seen one before; soldier’s uniforms look strange to people that don’t wear clothes; ‘scientific’ activity and instruments are bizarre to people that don’t practice science (and I use the word ‘scientific’ loosely because of the pseudo science being practiced at the time, e.g. physiognomy).
Looking on sites such as Amazon, there are a fair number of people criticising this book for promoting ‘white guilt’. To this, all I can say is that if they think they are ‘intelligent’, they should know that any book presents a perspective. That’s it. It’s not asking any of us to agree 100% with its message. It’s asking us to consider another point of view that may/may not influence our overall view. To disregard this book because we’re asked to consider another culture’s point of view is just ignorant.
I’m saddened that this book is out of print. It is an essential book in any North American and British classroom.