Unpacking The Cultural Significance Of Bunnies In Children’s Literature

The representation of these fluffy critters has changed a lot over the years. Unpacking The Cultural Significance Of Bunnies In Children’s Literature Giphy

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Easter is behind us … a day of utmost religious significance for many, a more social holiday for others, and of course, an opportunity for a bunny to deliver eggs in a basket for some reason.

But leaving aside the origins of the Easter Bunny, there’s no question that long-eared, fluffy-tailed lagomorphs play a big role in our culture — particularly among kids.

Changing characteristics

What today’s youth might recognize as a characteristically cute bunny from any number of popular books is a relatively recent construct. In fact, bunnies themselves have received a cultural makeover over the course of the 20th century.

The earliest modern references to rabbits (or their wilder cousins, hares) are decidedly less cuddly and sympathetic. In the late 1800s, people started to view rabbits more as a pet, but subsequent works like “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” nevertheless depicted them as nuisances at their core. Over the next several decades, bunnies were increasingly seen as cuddly critters … and that change became evident in their depiction in children’s literature.

A tale of two bunnies

Hares had been associated with sinister themes until the German Lutheran church began to include the rabbit as part of its Easter traditions. But while we might not think of bunnies as evil anymore, there’s still a decidedly adult aspect to our collective response to the species.

They’re known for their ability to reproduce rapidly, which has led to their association with fertility throughout much of human history.

And you don’t need to look any further than the “Playboy Bunny” trend to see how the animal a child sees as a cute pet can take on a much more carnal interpretation among older folks.

Maybe it’s worth taking a moment to see these animals through the innocent eyes of a youngster once again.

Chris Agee
Chris Agee April 1st, 2024
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