Baxter and the Blue Bunny

22 November 2019

Baxter and the Blue Bunny
by Lorraine Johnson, Illustrated by Wendi Nordell
Published by YNWP
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$12.95 ISBN 9-781988-783413

Baxter and the Blue Bunny is the debut children’s book by Yorkton writer Lorraine Johnson, and the story flows so smoothly along one would think it was penned by a veteran. Complemented by Alberta illustrator Wendi Nordell’s colourful and “just right” illustrations of the canine character Baxter and his home and family, this simple, well-told story hits a surprisingly deep emotional chord.

The story, told in Baxter’s voice, begins at a pet shelter, with “mom and dad, and two brothers” choosing the black and white Shih Tzu-looking dog. “I am looking for them … and they are looking for me,” Baxter says, “each of us wanting to find someone special to love, to look after, and to grow up with.” It’s easy to read this story as an allegory, for isn’t that what most of us humans want in life, too?

Through the text and Nordell’s inviting scenes we experience the days in the life of a happy, well-loved dog: he plays tug-o’-war with the boys, hide-and-seek with the adults, and Grandma brings a “stuffed blue bunny” which “soon becomes [Baxter’s] shadow”. The dog loves – and even sleeps with – the bunny … until the day Blue Bunny goes missing. “Where could he be? Will I ever see him again?”

Baxter uses his nose to search for his beloved stuffed friend, but time and again, “there is no blue bunny” and life just isn’t the same for our shaggy hero. Yes, he can chase birds and roll in the freshly-cut grass, but nothing is ever as much fun without his companion.

This softcover book is beautifully produced, with black, easy-to-read text against a white background, and full-bleed illustrations featuring Baxter inside the house or outdoors on each opposing page. To her credit, Johnson presents a dog that enjoys activities we might not consider “dog-like,” ie: watching Blue Bunny spin in the dryer, and standing before the oven while cookies bake. Cookies mean treats, but – and this is the refrain once the bunny bestie disappears – “there is no Blue Bunny” to enjoy them with.

In Johnson’s bio notes we learn that she was raised on a farm near Stockholm, SK, and when her family was young they did indeed find “a four-legged furry friend named Baxter to grow up with”. With children’s books, I’ve frequently found that the story often does reflect a real-life experience. Art imitates life. And why not?

Nordell’s notes reveal that she’s been a lifelong artist, and as such, she “claims never to have been bored as long as she had a pen and pencil and blank surface to draw on”.

It could be that I’m putting my own filter on this story as I equate it with the human need for companionship, and the profound grief one experiences when a relationship’s “lost,” but even without that comparison, Baxter and the Blue Bunny is recommendable. A touching story in a sweet package; I hope it finds its way into many hands, large and small.


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