Favourite Picturebooks: Watch Your Step, Mr. Rabbit!

Watch Your Step, Mr. Rabbit! by Richard Scarry is so thoroughly a part of my childhood and family culture that it almost doesn’t register as a book, bound by a cover and told through word and pictures. When I read the story I can hear my parents reading it aloud, I hear the punchline repeated (as it has been over the years) and applied to various circumstances, I hear the many ways I could and someday will read the story aloud to children. The humour and character of this book leap off the page and into the imagination; the story reads itself.

The text is simple. Only 39 different words are used; no more than seven words are used in the longest sentences. But what words! They ought to sound mundane, pedestrian, even. The story begins:

Here comes Mr. Rabbit.

Immediately the page is full of bustling characters from Busytown, all occupied by their own activities. Mr. Rabbit is the most occupied – or preoccupied – of all; he is reading his newspaper. Though the first sentence seems plain, it is a far cry from Dick and Jane “See/look at _____”. The reader is situated almost as a character, a participant, in the narrative, as though the narrator is standing beside the reader, pointing out in the most casually conversational way possible a friend who is coming their way. Any suggestion of dullness is dispelled by the colourful illustrations of active characters.

Poor preoccupied Mr. Rabbit soon falls into a predicament, and the people around him act and react, sometimes directly in various rescue attempts, sometimes indirectly, as do the little green bugs whose games mirror the wider community’s would-be solutions.

The rhythm of the story is sustained, and is broken at just the right moments in the best tradition of narratives for small children. Or not-so-small children: an adult reading is sure to smile as much as a child reader would. Watch Your Step, Mr. Rabbit is my favourite of Richard Scarry’s Busytown books. Everyone should read, or better yet, be read to from this story at least once. And once you’ve heard it once, once is never enough.

Watch your step, Mr. Rabbit