Martin Galway suggests that some especially badly behaved rabbits might just deserve a second chance, and a place in your library, in this review of Mini Grey’s latest picturebook.
The Bad Bunnies’ Magic Show – Mini Grey
(Simon and Schuster, 2017)
We’ve shared quite a lot of Mini Grey’s work in the past. Traction Man has saved the day on many occasions: he has starred in this blog by my colleague Penny – not to mention a wonderful workshop on reading and writing that she delivered at last year’s writing conference. We’ve used that same book in our grammar training to demonstrate how teaching the passive voice need never be as dry as you might think it might be and to show that picturebooks certainly have a place in the upper key stage 2 classroom. When I deliver a session on reading aloud, or a parents’ reading session, Mini’s The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon is almost certainly going to get a good airing. It’s irresistible and irreverent in the best way that great picturebooks tend to be. It also provides a chance to channel the spirit and voice of Humphrey Bogart. That is not to be sniffed at.
Egg Drop is as charming as-you-like, and handily models the year 1 writing curriculum in a very-small-child-friendly way. Hermelin the Mouse Detective is clever, touching, packed with great vocabulary, and carries intertextual references in a way that will delight children and adults alike. Don’t get me started on her pop-up interpretation of Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tale: Jim. It is staggeringly good. The list of rules for children visiting the zoo alone is worth the asking price. The list goes on – as does Mini’s boundless creative energy.
It’s fair to say, then, that we are huge fans of Mini’s work. However, on the odd occasion, we have worried that we have used her work a little too often . Yet only this week, I met a former year 2 teacher who has yet to discover the joys of Traction Man, so the mission continues, undimmed.
Mini’s latest, The Bad Bunnies’ Magic Show is perfectly timed for the end of a primary year. It’s [whispers] unadulterated fun. Fun in books is [whispers again] a quite good thing. Grab it while you can. Across its relatively short running time, The Bad Bunnies’ Magic Show parades a series of dastardly acts that begin with the capture and incarceration of a show magician and ends with outright rabbit-driven criminality. Along the way, the unthinkable happens to both chicken and fish; there are some knife-throwing near-misses; a magician’s assistant named Brenda is subjected to the worst an amateur magician might attempt.
[As a side-note, my mum is called Brenda, and I rather like the thought of her reading this book to her grandchildren. I imagine them wondering whether this Brenda is Nan, in all her former, show-business glory]
Typically, the book is full of visual jokes, top quality language (‘prestidigitation’, anyone?) and anarchic humour. The illustrations are typically vibrant and charming. The bunnies, in profile, call to mind vintage Snoopy. Cut outs and folds add further delight as animals transform, humans suffer unspeakable violence, and rabbits – eventually – get their comeuppance.
Or do they?
Of course, we must bear in mind the sensitive nature of the content of this book. This is, after all, a wanton display of appalling bunny behaviour. We may well debate the most effective means of managing our classrooms and the children that we teach. Wherever you fall in this particular debate, please, for the good of magician’s-assistants-named- Brenda everywhere, consider a No Excuses policy when it comes to bunnies and magic shows. You’ll only have yourselves to blame if you don’t.
As if we didn’t love Mini enough, we also have to thank her for very kindly, and generously, sending us the images used in this review so that we could publish on the day of the book’s release. It’s the sort of book that deserves a prompt, heartfelt recommendation. Treat yourself, if not your class.