The Rabbit Problem
Written and Illustrated by Emily Gravett
A book by Emily Gravett is never just words and pretty pictures. Right from her award winning debut, Wolves, Gravett has managed to delight and surprise us with her visuals, inventive book design and tongue- in- cheek humour. Her books usually feature unusual animals struggling with typically human problems – yearning for personal space (Meerkat Mail ), a quest for love (Spells), anxiety (Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears), plain old, ruinous curiosity (Wolves). Strange fare for young readers, you would think. Yet, Gravett manages to charm kids and adults alike with her spare, wry words, lush watercolours and an amazing eye for detail – I can’t think of another picture book creator who manages to pack as many sly visual jokes and paper engineering tricks into a single book like Gravett does. And did I mention the twist in the tail that inavariably ends each of her tales?
The Rabbit Problem is that rarity – a picture book about math. In it, the author explores a famous mathematical problem posed by medieval mathematician Fibonacci. Given the speed at which bunnies multiply, Fibonacci wondered, and starting with just two rabbits, how many rabbits would one have at the end of a year? (Rabbits mature by the ripe old age of two months, after which they have an average of two babies a month). Fibonacci, no doubt, went on to fill sheets of paper with laborious calculations, to derive his answer. Gravett takes the graphic route. Even better, she gives us a book that pretends to be a wall calendar – no formal text, just a series of intricately detailed spreads showing us each month in the eventful lives of a rapidly increasing rabbit family over the course of a year. There are even conveniently placed holes , in case you feel like hanging the book up on the wall. Gravett also manages to keep the math accurate – she has painstakingly ensured that each page holds just the right number of rabbits to coincide with Fibonacci’s calculations. Yes, I did count.
So Lonely Rabbit, all alone in a desolate field in January meets and snuggles up to furry little Chalk Rabbit in February. In March they welcome a pair of little tykes; by May, their numbers are up to ten. By October, the field bristles with no less than 55 pairs of rabbits, ! Imagine the chaos. Actually, don’t – leave it to Gravett instead.
The Rabbit Problem is a veritable explosion – not just of bunnies, but also of lush watercolours, witty subplots, and a subtext rich in observations on the travails of modern day parenting. Lonely and Chalk are harried parents , but well meaning – look for the scribbled notes they leave on the’ calendar’ as they try to keep some semblance of order in their lives . The calendar also doubles up as a pinboard, bristling with booklets, recipes, knitting guides, even a Fibonacci’s Field newsletter. Space, it turns out, is the least of the bunnies’ worries – each month brings a new flavor of trouble . So April is all about the Soggy Rabbit Problem, as rain drenches Fibonacci’s Field; July is all about Hot Rabbits, desperately fanning themselves and licking carrot popsicles. Even ennui is a threat, as July (the’Bored Rabbit Problem') illustrates. All the while, the pages get increasingly grubby, stained with footprints, food, other suspicious stains, and riddled with holes. This is a book of sumptuous and hilarious detail, all of it leading up to the grand, eye-popping surprise that is December , where some nifty paper engineering innovatively presents us with the answer to Fibonacci’s puzzle.
The Rabbit Problem is clearly about math; in addition, its furry characters give us a little lesson in biology as well . But look again at how human those rabbits seem, note their increasingly weary expressions and body language as they deal with heat, rain, hunger and, most of all, each other. Gravett’s rabbits manage to teach us a thing or two about sociology, psychology and economics as well!