Bunnicula, a book by Deborah and James Howe about the Monroe family who discovers what may be a vampiric bunny, is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s narrated by the family dog, Harold, whose hobbies are checking his food bowl as obsessively as I check Twitter, napping, and churning out the occasional horror/comedy manuscript. The family finds the rabbit in a shoebox at the movies with a note in an odd dialect that Harold is able to parse (which translates to Please take care of my baby.) Because the movie they went to was Dracula, they decide on the name Bunnicula.
Harold’s companion, a cat named Chester with a penchant for Stephen King novels and an overactive imagination, is convinced that Bunnicula is a vampire and that he means trouble. The clues? Bunnicula’s only active at night, he always manages to get out of his cage, and ever since his arrival there have been an abundance of drained white veggies all over the kitchen.
Chester tries to put an end to Bunnicula by cutting him off from his nighttime veggie draining. Bunnicula grows ill. Harold becomes worried, as he’s become attached to the little lapine Nosferatu. The Monroes finally notice and take Bunnicula to the vet, where he’s put on a constant diet of veggie juice. He soon recovers. Chester is brought to an animal therapist and soon takes to spouting psychobabble.
- I really love this book because it’s hilariously funny. And I don’t mean “funny for kids.” Take the beginning, which is written as an editor’s note. It describes how the manuscript was dropped off by a dog (i.e., Harold), with a short note explaining how it came to be written. I quote Harold, “I come to writing purely by chance. My full-time occupation is dog.”
- I usually hate puns, but here they work really well. Chester decides that to stop Bunnicula they’ll need to pound a stake through his heart. Chester and Harold both misinterpret this as “steak,” of course, and hilarity (and a meat juice soaked bunny) ensue.
- One of my favorite parts happens in the beginning. The Monroes have just gotten back and of course, need to explain for the benefit of the reader (and Harold and Chester) how Bunnicula was discovered. Of course, generally one doesn’t explain stuff like that to animals (unless you met your spouse in a Starbucks across the street and go into hives if your Weimaraner catches you going at it). Harold, however, explains why the Monroes are narrating to their pets. He tells the reader that the Monroes, however, treat their pets as though they’re very special:
It’s never been just ‘Good boy, Harold’ or ‘Use the litter box, Chester’…Oh no, with us it’s ‘Hey Harold, Dad got a raise and now we’re in a higher tax bracket,’ or ‘Come sit on the bed, Chester, and watch this Wild Kingdom show. Maybe you’ll see a relative.’..But after all, Mr. Monroe is a college professor and Mrs. Monroe is a lawyer, so we think of it as a rather special household.
- One of my favorite things about Bunnicula is that the title character, despite possibly being a vampire, isn’t sexy or tormented or drop dead gorgeous. Yes, he’s the most awesome rabbit character ever (he trumps Frank from Donnie Darko and Harvey), but he’s nothing like Edward or a Vampire Diaries stand-in. Then again, at the end he is given a diet of veggie juice, meaning Bunnicula’s reign of terror in the Monroe kitchen is over. Is he the inspiration for the kinder, gentler vampires who drink TruBlood or animal blood? Dammit, James Howe, did you help with the rise of what I like to call vegan-pires?
- You know how a lot of books make you hungry for certain foods? Like Jessi and the Single Anorexic Ballet Dancer in Connecticut, which ironically always made me crave Burger King, or every single Claudia book which always made me hunger for Frozen Milky Ways. I always want a chocolate cupcake when I read these because of how Toby Monroe, the youngest son, stays up late reading books on Friday nights with Harold (and snacking on chocolate cupcakes). Let’s pause (or paws?) here while I scramble to find a Mrs. Freshley’s.
- In the end, Chester’s therapy helps him a lot. He even starts reading a book called Finding Yourself by Screaming a Lot. I have to love a children’s book author who doesn’t underestimate his audience. No, not that many second graders are familiar with Primal Scream theory but it’s a nice treat for the parents reading aloud to their kids–or for those of us who love to obsessively reread the stuff we grew up on.
- Since this is a book about anthropomorphic animals, there is the inevitable cute animal scene. (Viewed, of course, as cruel and unusual punishment.) The part of me that goes nuts over things like ducklings wearing hats or dogs sporting snuggies, however, went apeshit over the scene where the Monroes see Chester trying to convince them that their newfound rabbit is an unholy demon of the night, and assume he’s cold. They rectify this by making Chester wear his sweater with little purple mice in cowboy hats. Come on, say it with me now–awwww! (Sorry, Chester.)
- This book did contain one of my pet peeves. Harold likes to join Toby for his nightly Friday read. One night, Toby, who’s eight, reads Treasure Island. I never understood kids in fiction who were in the single digits and easily got through stuff like The Three Musketeers or Treasure Island. I was (and am) a huge reader and I still can’t get through Dumas and Stevenson unless I have a different book loving dog at my shoulder (and this time I’m talking about a little Jack Russell named Wishbone).
- When Chester is trying to explain to Harold that Bunnicula is a vampire, he describes a book he’s found as explaining, “everything you’ve always wanted to know about vampires but were afraid to ask.” Is that a Woody Allen ref I see before me? I sure hope so!
- I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I really loved the old Bunnicula book cover (and the covers of all the other books in the series). The new one makes Bunnicula look so sinister. He looks like something out of Jimmy Carter’s nightmares. I prefer the original cover where Bunnicula looked sort of eerie but cute. Kids these days.
- Not to sound too much like James Howe’s publicist, but if you liked this book, you simply have to read the rest. They’re all great books, even better than the original. And there’s a wonderfully scathing send up of R.L. Stine in the book Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow (Stine is satirized as writer M.T. Graves).