Pat the Bunny – Dorothy Kunhardt

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: Nope
Variety of characters: Nope.
Good story: Yes for both me and kid. 2 points.
Discretionary ideological points: 1 for being good for visually impaired kids.

Pat the Bunny is possibly the first “touch and feel” book. Published in 1940, it has a little too much of the “nuclear white family” thing going on – mummy, daddy, brother and sister (Paul and Judy) – but the interactivity was fairly revolutionary for its time.

There is no conversation, which makes it impossible for it to pass the Bechdel, but it doesn’t really do it even in spirit. “Judy” and Mummy don’t interact at all. I suppose it’s kind of cool that the interactions are Dad and daughter and Mum and son, but even those are kept firmly in prescribed gender roles. Judy feels Daddy’s (oh so manly) scratchy face, and Paul plays with Mummy’s (I assume wedding) ring.

The family in the book are about as WASPy as they come. They smell flowers, play peek-a-boo and read books about bunnies (hah! I see what you did there with the metatext, Dorothy). That being said, the “touch and feel” concept is one which is great for visually impaired kids, letting them interact with books on other sensory levels. (Perhaps obviously, it’s good for all kids of this age.) This was probably the first book that had that aspect, so I’m going to give it one discretionary point for that.

Is it enjoyable? Hell yes. C still loves it and he’s almost 5. Kids do tend to enjoy books they can interact with, and I’ve read many of them, and this one is actually, despite its age, still one of the better ones. It engages all the senses (the flowers even have a scent – not of flowers, but hey, at least they tried) and the text is really simple and straightforward. It’s fun for him and kinda of fun for me – also QUICK which is a benefit when you’re a busy single Mom. 😉 So it gets the 2 enjoyment points.

I don’t think there’s anything particularly damaging about this one – it’s perfectly fine. But it’s definitely a very white middle class book. It’s a product of its time, of course, but the very white nuclear family thing isn’t going to challenge any status quos. (Can you pluralise status quo? Tough – I just did.) It’s a cool example of its kind, and in a world where touch and feel books are everywhere now, it gets credit for being ahead of the curve on that. Certainly, read it to your kids. But you’ll need to go elsewhere for some variety of life. 😉

What do you think? Is it a staple in your household? What’s your (or your kid(s)’) favourite Touch and Feel book?

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