Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Social Event of the Easter Season

Two little rabbits spend their days playing games such as "Jump the Daisies" and "Run Through the Clover." When they're thirsty, they drink cool, clear water from the spring and when they're hungry, they graze in a patch of dandelions. But the male rabbit is pensive and finally admits to his companion: "I just wish that I could be with you forever and always." When she agrees, the two don dandelions and clasp hands as their friends from the forest dance in a wedding circle around the happy pair. From this brief description, it's hard to believe that Garth Williams' THE RABBITS' WEDDING was one of the most controversial books of the 1950s. The clue to the controversy can be seen in the cover illustration below:
.Still can't figure it out? Good. That shows how much we've progressed as a society from 1958, when Harper published this oversized (9 x 12) picture book and a firestom of controversy broke out because the female rabbit was white and male rabbit was black.

A columnist from Florida's Orlando Sentinel wrote, "As soon as you pick up the book, you realize these rabbits are integrated. One of the techniques of brainwashing is conditioning minds to accept what the brainwashers want accepted." The Montgomery Home News referred to the book as "integrationist propaganda," leading Alabama State Senator E. O. Eddins to state, "This book should be taken off the shelves and burned." It wasn't burned, but the Alabama Public Library did remove the book from circulation and place it on special closed shelves.

Though this rabbity ruckus would be debated in the pages of Time, Newsweek, Life, and over 7000 newspapers, the author-illustrator remained calm. "I was only aware that a white horse next to a black horse looks very picturesque--and my rabbits were inspired by early Chinese paintings of black and white horses in misty landscapes," said Garth Williams, and offered this final word on the subject: "THE RABBITS' WEDDING has no political significance. I was completely unaware that animals with white fur were considered blood relations of white human beings. It was written for children from two to five who will understand it perfectly."

And he was right. Children did understand this gentle romance...and have kept the book in print for fifty years.

Written and illustrated by Garth Williams
Harper and Brothers, 1958

Why the book is collectable:

Because it's a modern classic.

Because Garth Williams' work has illustrated such classics as CHARLOTTE'S WEB, STUART LITTLE, and the "Little House" series.

Because of The Controversy.

First edition points:

Bound in illustrated paper boards.

The dustjacket has a price of $2.50 at the top of the front flap. At the bottom fo that flap are the numbers "30-70" and "no. 7999A." The bottom of the back flap states "no. 8000A."

No indication of edition or printing on copyright page, though a Library of Congress Catalog number (LC 58-5285) is listed.

Difficulty in finding first editions:

Some copies are available, generally running $100-$200 or higher.


Esperanza said...

Fascinating! Thank you, Peter.
I'd like to share the book and media coverage with my students. Can you cite the media sources?

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Thanks, Esperanza.

Some of the info comes from the June 1, 1959 issue of TIME, also available on the web at:,9171,811118,00.html

The controversy is also discussed in the May 22 and May 24, 1959 issues of the New York Times.


Kipik said...

Thank you so much for explaining. This is one of the most beautiful children book in existence and one of the most inspiring. This book is still presented often as a "controversial book" when, obviously it is this weird "integration" that is. (What on earth does it mean?)
Garth was my Uncle and I am very proud of him, even though I never met him. He was, like his father Monty very witty, and not very patient with the demands of commercial art. My mom remembers him being very angry to have been asked to make the tail of a mouse he was drawing longer. I collect his books, there are many! Other wonderful ones are: "3 little animals" and "Wait till the moon is full"

buy jeans said...

The permanence of the internet makes this kind of joke even more amusing. I just saw this today, and it wasn't until the photo was MENTIONED in the post that I looked at it closely and scrolled back up to the date to see if it was an AF.