Madeline is a very resourceful young lady, especially for going-on-eleven, but even she is flummoxed when her parents are kidnapped by what appears to be a band of foxes driving a car. Her parents are helpless in this situation–as they are in most situations, being jobless and barefoot and not entirely legal residents of Hornby Island, British Columbia. And her Uncle Runyon, who could be helpful as “the only relative living on Vancouver Island one-hundred percent legally and with consistently covered toes,” has most inconveniently slipped into a coma.
So it’s a good thing Mr. and Mrs. Bunny have just launched their detective business, because what’s needed now are level heads who know how to follow up clues. Which, on second thought, might not be the Bunnys: they took up detecting mostly so they could wear fedoras. Strangely, Madeline can understand them, unlike most humans–could she be . . . a bunny whisperer? She’s very much a lost little girl and the Bunnys become something like the responsible parents she never had. Like long-married couples the world over, they needle each other absently (“‘How you do run on and on,’ Mrs. Bunny said dismissively while knitting winter underwear out of used dental floss”), but fall asleep every night holding paws.
Finding Madelyn’s parents is more a matter of luck and pluck than shrewd detective work, though The Marmot (The is his first name) provides some haphazard clues. The Bunnys unravel all threads while staying alive and out of jail, and their confrontation with Madeline’s hippie parents is a triumph of traditional values. When the parents shrug and sneer at news that Madeline must have a pair of white shoes in order to meet the Prince of Wales at her school, Mrs. Bunny has this to say:
Prince Charles didn’t ask for is job. He was born into it. He spends his whole life going to boring old ceremonies and teas and honorings not because he thinks he’s special but because others have put that value on him, and by showing up he makes them feel so.
Score one for Queen and country! Pulling off a story like this is harder than it looks. In less capable hands it would only be silly, but Polly Horvath has lots of experience with offbeat tales. I’ll admit, some of her other books are a little too weird for my taste–but then, she only translated this one from the original Rabbit. She manages a neat balance of the fantastic, the humorous, and the luminous, and the disconnect between bunny-logic and the human world is a hoot. Anybody at all susceptible to rabbits will hop all over this one.
For more animal (and egg) detective stories, go here. For a more disciplined, but equally fantastic, treatment of collecting evidence, check out The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. And for a look at that other furry staple of children’s literature, see “Mouse Tales.”