Each time that I reread it, even now, I have the same intensely emotional reaction. It gives me goosebumps. Every time.
'The Rabbits' is a story that will speak across generations, both reaching back to connect with older readers as well as reaching forwards to the youth of the future. It is a book that is timeless, graceful, both beautifully written and exquisitely and intricately illustrated.
Addressing head on an immensely important and sensitive part of Australian history, 'The Rabbits' offers a way to introduce the horrors and havoc that European invasion and settlement of Australian land had on its Indigenous population, in a way that young children can begin to grasp and further build upon as they grow older.
The simplicity of the language, tone and overall delivery make a topic that is difficult to approach much more approachable, with no more than one or two short sentences on each page, but with every single word carefully chosen and beautifully placed. Tan's illustrations hone the emotional impact of these words to perfection, increasing the power of the book immensely. As an adult reader, I find that every single sentence packs a punch that leaves me slightly winded.
It is by no means a leisurely bedtime story and it is likely to raise some difficult questions in curious young minds as, without delving too far into specific details, it touches on battles, the stolen generation, theft of land and resources, and enslavement. It does not offer answers to what happened, but acts more as a record of what happened, and is a beginning point for children and parents to enquire into, and further understand the history of the colonisation of Australia.
John Marsden and Shaun Tan are both forces to be reckoned with in their own right, their individual bodies of work are incredible, both immense in impact and renowned worldwide. Pairing them together has created a true masterpiece.
Title: The Rabbits
Author: John Marsden
Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Publisher: Hachette Australia, $28.99
Publication Date: 1 May 1998
For ages: 6+
Type: Picture Book