Rachel in Review: A Little Empathy for Poor Old Mom
“Sure—not a problem. What’s the theory?”
For those who may not have encountered it yet, Mrs. White Rabbit lets readers peek inside the diary of the White Rabbit’s extremely busy wife and see what happens in the background during Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. With a perpetually late husband, six precocious children, an (in)visible housecat from Cheshire, and an unreliable babysitter who changes size without notice, Mrs. White Rabbit’s life is rife with the kinds of challenges familiar to moms everywhere.
My theory, then, was this: that a picture book written from the perspective of a frazzled mother might help my children better understand and empathize with my own daily experience.
A long shot, I know, but a mom can dream, can’t she?
After all, if there’s one thing picture books do really well (aside from entertaining, educating, and delighting, of course), it’s helping young readers build empathy.
That same night, then, we all gathered together on the sofa and read through the book together.
Things went well—mostly.
They gaped over the illustrations. I had to pause at several points for them to take in all the interesting details—each choosing their own favorite carrot recipe from the dozens on display in one spread, and pointing out familiar Alice in Wonderland characters lined up in school desks in another.
They laughed at the jokes, visual and textual, adding their own sound effects for particularly groan-inducing one-liners and calling out, “Ew, gross!” one by one as they each picked up on the inevitable humor inherent in toilet-training rabbit twins.
They had a wonderful time with Mrs. White Rabbit, but they didn’t (at least at first) show any sign of having cultivated greater empathy for motherkind. Concern over the teenaged rabbit daughter whose modeling ambitions keep her from eating a square meal? Yes. Condescension toward the always late and never helpful Mr. White Rabbit himself? Sure. But were they feeling any compassion for the poor, overworked, worry-bound mama rabbit at the heart of the story? Not that I could tell.
Heaven forgive me for this, but I still couldn’t let my dream die without one last maternal nudge.
“So,” I asked, trying my best to be subtle. (Subtlety is not my strong suit.) “Did the book give you any ideas about what it’s like to be the mom in a big family?”
There was a short pause while they processed the question.
“I feel sorry for you, mom.”
BINGO! I thought jubilantly to myself. Vindication!
Not wanting to belabor the point now that I had scored a few points for empathy, I changed tack and instead asked them, more generally, what they thought of the book.
“I liked it.”
“Two words: absolutely adorable.”
“One word: inspiring.”
Inspiring? Somewhat puzzled by the choice of adjective, I asked what she meant by it. Interesting, I could understand. Hilarious—sure, but inspiring?
“Inspiring us to be better children.”
Oh yes, I thought. Katherine’s copy may be going back to her shelf tomorrow, but Mrs. White Rabbit will definitely be coming home to stay, and soon.
* * *
About Rachel in Review:
Life for this kid lit enthusiast and working mother of four can be messy. Confusing. Painful. Funny. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Enter the Eerdmans books. So, so many of our books, whether they’re bedtime books for babies or coming-of-age novels for young adults, seem to have a single uncannily common quality about them: they just fit. These wise, wonderful books somehow manage to tie into—and by so doing, help me sort out—the knotty complexities of life as I actually experience them.