Molly Coxe retells the old story with verve and an eye for detail. When Bunny's father gets lost in the forest and stumbles upon the magical castle, the splendid meal that appears before him includes "steaming oatmeal, jasmine tea and fresh carrot juice." When Bunny first leaves home to go to the Beast's castle, it is so early in the morning that the moon is still up. The story is richly detailed enough to survive without illustrations, but fortunately it doesn't have to.
Madame Leprince de Beaumont's 18th-century love story simply describes the Beast as "hideous," and leaves the nature of his hideousness to the reader's imagination. Jean Cocteau's surreal 1945 film portrayed the beast as fanged and vaguely leonine. The 1991 Disney movie gave us a Beast tusked and handsomely maned. Now, Bunny & the Beast brings us a whole new take on this cursed nobleman.
With all the rest of the characters reinvented as rabbits, the new Beast turns out to be a bull terrier, complete with shiny black nose and one black eye, and resplendent in a purple velvet suit.
Pamela Silin-Palmer, the illustrator, has great fun with these characters. Interestingly, she is also preoccupied with certain creatures that aren't even mentioned in the text. They show up in curious ways that will reward the attentive browser. Bunny's father picked a rose from the Beast's garden, and this trespass resulted in the Beast's demand for one of his daughters. Therefore flowers - especially roses, but also irises, violets, pansies and others - are the unifying visual theme in these busy double-page montages. And the flowers are crawling with tiny beetles, dragonflies, bees and snails. Lots of snails.
There are many amusing touches. In harlequin trousers like jesters, tiny frogs lurk around the body of the text, rather like the singing mice in the film Babe. While Bunny reads, a frog in the corner peruses The Frog Prince. As the Beast is dying, a nearby frog blows his nose on a tiny hanky.
Curiously, the most realistically painted creatures in the book are the butterflies. Sulphurs, blues, swallowtails, monarchs - realistic portrayals of each flutter through the otherwise loose and fanciful illustrations. Although the insects go unmentioned in the text, the characters aren't unaware of them. Bunny's father permits one to land on his finger; a frog chases one with a tiny butterfly net. Fairies, cavorting around here and there, are tiny bunnies with butterfly wings.
In Bunny & the Beast, Molly Coxe and Pamela Silin-Palmer have managed the difficult task of creating a new and amusing take on an old story. In doing so, they remind us that one mark of a classic is the ability to speak anew to each generation.
Michael Sims is a writer in Nashville. Copyright 2001 BookPage Reviews
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2001 Fall
Except for the fact that Beauty is a rabbit and Beast is a bull terrier--details that don't really affect the story much--this picture book is a fairly traditional version of the well-known tale. Silin-Palmer's romantic illustrations fill the pages with a riot of flowers and luxurious patterns, which make Bunny's humble cottage seem just as opulent as the Beast's ornate castle. Copyright 2001 Horn Book Guide Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2001 January #2
A recasting of Beauty and the Beast where the characters are rabbits--and the Beast is a very large dog. The story line is fairly traditional, even to the reasons Beauty--here, Bunny--and her family must move to the country (her father loses and then regains his merchant fleet), and the telling is a bit on the twee side. What is astonishing here are the pictures, voluptuously illustrated like Arcimboldo, Fantin-Latour, and Fragonard rolled into one. The pages are covered in perfectly painted flowers and adornments of every description, gardens, interiors, and hearthsides. Bunny herself and all the other characters are bedizened with silks, velvets, and ornament, and little frog-elves in courtly dress appear to comment by their presence on the action. The emphasis is silly rather than serious, and it is immensely satisfying to peer at the pages to pick out the odd butterfly, bunch of grapes, or other sumptuous element. The doggy Beast does indeed become a rabbit prince, and a tailpiece shows one of the frogsreading the tale to a passel of bunny babies. Of course. (Picture book. 6-9) Copyright Kirkus 2001 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2001 January #2
Coxe (Big Egg) and Silin-Palmer (The Nightingale and the Wind) bring humor, if not air-tight internal logic, to this full-dress retelling of a familiar tale. Here, a rabbit merchant down on his luck strikes a deal with a rose-keeping Beast. The characters' brisk repartee keeps the story moving at a pace worthy of any scurrying rabbit. For example, after the Beast asks the merchant to bring him one of his daughters, the distraught man wails, "If you must devour someone, devour me," to which the quick-witted Beast replies, "If I were merely hungry, I would have eaten you already." The language, the length of the text and the type size are most appropriate for older readers. Silin-Palmer's sprawling, elaborate paintings command attention with their elegant floral borders and bountiful details: lavish costumes, lush gardens dominated by rabbit-shaped topiary, frog courtiers. The artist's choice of a benign-looking bull terrier to play the role of Beast seems at odds with the text ("His eyes were angry, his teeth were sharp, and his claws were long," writes Coxe at the Beast's first appearance); how is this dog more "beastly" than a rabbit? Readers who don't want to look too closely at the story's workings, however, can content themselves with its pretty trappings. Ages 5-8. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2001 May
K-Gr 3-A well-written retelling of a French fairy tale starring a family of white rabbits with a bull terrier as the Beast, all clothed in stunning period costumes. The illustrations rise to the finest fairy-tale tradition of lavishness and opulence. The text is printed on paper that looks like parchment and is surrounded by bouquets or other elaborate borders. Painted in luscious, velvety hues, the double-page spreads shine with lifelike flowers, fine garments, and imperial architecture. From the twinkling of fairies to cloaks caught in flight to the rushing of a creek, each page vibrates with the exuberance of movement. Older children will enjoy reading the story and poring over the myriad details in the artwork. The tale also reads aloud well. Marianna Mayer's Beauty and the Beast (Aladdin, 1987) offers a more traditional retelling and has stunning human images. Laurence Yep's The Dragon Prince: A Chinese Beauty and the Beast Tale (HarperCollins, 1997) offers a unique version of this classic story.-Linda M. Kenton, San Rafael Public Library, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.