As of Thursday, August 10, 2017
At some point in our lives, everyone has a bad day. The alarm clock doesn’t go off as it should and you’re late for work. You spill coffee on your freshly cleaned shirt. There aren’t any open parking spaces. As adults, we’re supposed to know how to cope with petty problems. Tomorrow will be better, and it usually is. But there are days, or sometimes weeks, when it feels like nothing is going right and nothing can fix it.
When that happens, my family takes a voyage to the Bunny Planet. In 1992, children’s book author and illustrator Rosemary Wells published a trilogy of charming little books entitled “Voyage to the Bunny Planet.” The three books — “First Tomato,” “The Island Light,” and “Moss Pillows,” all address the problem of a bad day. Each book stars a little anthropomorphized critter struggling with a series of difficulties: for Robert, dinner is cold liver chili. A doctor gives Felix medicine that tastes like gasoline. Claire is the only girl who can’t do a cartwheel. But just when life looks impossibly bleak, Janet, queen of the Bunny Planet, arrives to change the day. Wells writes, “Far beyond the moon and stars, twenty light-years south of Mars, spins the gentle Bunny Planet, and the Bunny Queen is Janet.” Janet escorts the critters through a garden gate, telling each little one, “Here’s the day that should have been.”
We often whisper, “You need a visit to the Bunny Planet,” when the going gets rough at our house, and somehow our problems seem more surmountable. For 25 years, we’ve relied on Queen Janet to help us feel better, and she has always obliged.
Though I’m in my 60s, I find great solace and wisdom in the three little rhyming stories and sweet illustrations. My favorite is “First Tomato,” a story about Grace’s bad day. Dreary cold weather and too much math make for misery. Janet rescues Grace and takes her to a verdant garden, ripe with peas, beans and one gloriously ripe tomato. Grace is tempted to eat the tomato, but decides instead to give it to her mother, who make her First Tomato soup “because I love you so.”
The last few weeks have been filled with stressful events and solemn news, and many a tear has been shed. This week, when I felt defeated, I walked outside to our garden, plucked some beautiful ripe tomatoes off the vine, and instantly felt better. It was then I remembered the Bunny Planet. I found my daughter’s copy of the book, reread “First Tomato” for the thousandth time and quietly thanked Janet for taking me out to the garden. That night, I made delicious BLTs for dinner, the first of the summer season. Licking my lips, things didn’t seem quite so bad.
The next morning, I got on the internet, hoping to learn something about Rosemary Wells. Vital statistics included her birth year (1943), children (two daughters), husband (deceased), author and illustrator of over 100 books. I watched an animated film of “First Tomato” on dailymotion.com, narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I listened to interviews in which Wells stated, “Believing that books are alive made me a writer,” and “I write wholesome books that are many layered and gently read.” Finally, I clicked on a button that said, “Say hello.” It was an e-mail invitation to leave a message for Wells. And so, I did, relaying to her my distress, and how “Voyage to the Bunny Planet” had helped me get through the day. Within an hour, I had a reply in my e-mail inbox. Wells empathized with my situation, recounting a similar experience in her own life. She wrote, “Thank you for your heartfelt letter. It is only through letters like yours, which thoughtful people take the time to send, that an author knows the true depth of her reach in the world.”
Since that initial connection, Rosemary (referring to her as Wells seems too formal now that we’ve written to each other) and I have corresponded several times. She inquired about my problem, and asked me to notify her when it was resolved. When I gave her happy news, she responded by writing, “Champagne!”
The charming little books are now back in their lovely box. Claire, Robert and Felix are waiting for me to visit another day; as for Queen Janet, she’s watching, ready to swoop down from “twenty-light years south of Mars” to rescue me from a bad day. In the meantime, the tomatoes are calling, and I feel better.