Review: Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans
By Julie Mills
Wed Wabbit is a fantasy story told with humour, exploring serious themes including grief, anger, dealing with emotions, change, fears, leadership. Positive play and imagination, co-operation and friendship are positive themes. “Know yourself” might be the motto for this is a moral tale.
It is a super compulsive read, good for readers of the younger age group (9/10 or younger if read aloud, upwards). An adventure story with a great narrative, it uses mystery, puzzles and the journey quest as plot movers and includes a map of the land of the Wimblies. This is the land into which Fidge and her cousin Graham are hurled, following the near fatal accident to Fidge’s sister Minnie, whose favourite toy Wed Wabbit has recently taken over the idyllic, but stiflingly structured, land where the different coloured Wimblies live. This is a realisation and subversion of Minnie’s favourite story book The Wimbly Woos and a leap into the imaginative world of the pre-schooler.
Fidge soon realises that there is something rotten in the state of Wimbly Woo: “the prettiness seemed painted on. Nasty things were happening here” (p57). She is driven by the need to return Wed Wabbit the toy to her dangerously ill sister, but in the process leads a motley team of life sized toys to liberate the land of Wimblies not only from the tyranny of Wed Wabbit but from previous weak leadership and stereotyped expectations of its citizens.
Fidge and Graham are opposites in many ways and both characters develop. Much of the humour comes in the description of Graham’s over-imagined fears and his mother’s neurosis about his wellbeing. Fidge wants to take risks but in a controlled manner and facts matter more than imagination to her. She is refusing to confront her emotions following her father’s death and cannot bear to hug anyone. Her mother says she is “like cuddling a cardboard box, you are all corners” (p.11). Both of these character traits are addressed and both come out much more rounded humans at the end. The message is made explicit when applied to the Wimbly Woos about seeing individuals as whole with a range and not just one skill or trait (p.149).
Much humour comes from the terrible rhyming of the original story book and the speech of the Wimblies who are required to speak in rhyme. Evans plays with this in many ways – Fidge changes the word “hearts” to “farts” when reading the story aloud; the weak King has given up on finding meaningful rhymes, subverting his authority; and the oldest and wisest of the verbose Greys acquires admirable brevity: “Too late/For debate/Don’t talk/Just walk. (p.209). Also, the Wabbit of the title pronounces his Rs as Ws, as does Minnie (deliberately), which is used to comic effect, making him ridiculous and incidentally less threatening to readers. But is it OK to laugh at a speech characteristic even if it is portrayed as affectionate?
There is humorous treatment, too, of Graham’s fears, and the boring things thought of when the blandness of the blank page threatens to engulf Wimbly land. The whimsical, imaginative games of Minnie, as seen from the perspective of the “older and wiser” Fidge, are familiar and amusing. Is this also a wry reflection on the tyranny of toddlers? – Minnie uses Wed Wabbit to give orders to the rest of her family. The characters of Ella and Dr. Carrot (the life coach and the therapist) speak more to adult readers.
The opening chapter is a model of concise character, scene and plot setting whilst being immensely entertaining, using lots of dialogue. Evans sketches strong and believable characters giving their back story and basically telling the reader in outline what is going to happen, without you realising it, and also creating suspense from the opening lines: “it was such an ordinary evening but every detail of it would matter, every detail would become vital,” and finishing with: “it was not until the next afternoon that the terrible thing happened” (p.7).
There is a satisfyingly mirroring structure between the brief scene setting description of the original storybook ending (p.6) and the conclusion of the Wimbly land adventure in this book (p.232).
Short chapters, alternating story line, urgency of quest to return Wed Wabbit all keep tension and interests going.
The land of the Wimblies in this story is a broken version of the original story book and also an immersive amalgamation of the story book with a young child’s imaginative play.
Language and imagery are fun and accessible to younger age range reader, whilst also imaginative, varied and humorous. For example, words for colourfully patterned “striped ….to stippled” (p.228). The rhyming speeches are deliberately excruciatingly bad but cleverly vary in style and vocabulary, although not rhythm, depending on the nature of the colour of Wimbly.
Lissa Evans says that she was inspired by The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This is evident in the healing effects of friendship between opposites. Other comparisons can be made with classic children’s literature such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with Wed Wabbit as the Red Queen (and opposite of the of white rabbit?) and the striking visual similarity of the scene where Wed Wabbit grows bigger and bigger bursting out of the castle. It also echoes Alice’s observation that “trial is customary before punishment is decided upon” (p.115).There is similarity, too, with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Wed Wabbit is a malign version of the Wizard, the Wimblies are the Munchkins and Fidge’s quest, like Dorothy’s, is to find the way back home, accompanied by a team of motley characters all of whom ultimately discover their true qualities.
That said, Wed Wabbit is original, hilarious and contemporary; a good read which is thoughtful and insightful.
The Roehampton Readers participated in the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children’s Book Awards as a shadowing group, meeting at the University of Roehampton to discuss the shortlists. We are sharing a selection of the reviews with you as part of the ongoing activity here at NCRCL. The Roehampton Readers group is coordinated by Julie Mills, former librarian at Roehampton, and Lorna Collins, NCRCL MA Children’s Literature Graduate.