Authors: Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Matthew Myers
Publisher: Walker Books
Synopsis and reasons for selection
Poor Alex has been given a sugary, soppy, silly picture book about Birthday Bunny by his Gran. Alex isn’t interested until he decides to make the book something he’d actually want to read. He takes out his pencil, and through scrawled handwriting and drawings, transforms the story into one of disorder and disruption!
Birthday Bunny becomes Battle Bunny, and the rabbit’s innocent, sweet journey through the forest transforms into a super-secret mission involving guns, explosives and exciting confrontations. Battle Bunny is about to unleash an evil plan and only brave Alex can stop it. Featuring layered, original artwork that emphasises Alex’s anarchic additions and clever word play, this dynamic, creative adventure is sure to engage and inspire.
About the authors
Jon Scieszka lives in Brooklyn and is one of the most significant, iconic, and well-loved voices in children’s literature. His stories include, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs!, The Stinky Cheese Man and The Time Warp Trio.
Mac Barnett is a New York Times bestselling author of books for children, including Extra Yarn, which won a 2013 Caldecott Honor, and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. Mac is co-author of The Terrible Two series.
Before the session, allow children to read the original story ‘Birthday Bunny’. A link to the pdf can be found here:
Encourage the children to create a story map, charting the events of the original story.
Ask the children:
- Who do they think the story will appeal to?
- Who do they think the book is aimed at? Why?
- Did they like the story? Was there anything that they disliked? Anything that puzzled them?
- How is this book similar to other traditional tales and fairy stories? Make a list.
Now, allow some time for the children to explore Battle Bunny up to the page where he starts on his journey through the forest. You can use a paperclip to secure the pages so the children don’t read past this page. If it is possible for the children to have their own copy, they can read at their own pace and write down their responses.
- Is there anything that puzzles them about the book?
- Do they have any questions? Is there an image they like or dislike?
- How is this different to the original version they have read?
Follow up questions may also include:
- What books have you read that you disliked? Why did you dislike it?
Use the children’s questions to initiate a discussion – they will be more engaged if it is something they are genuinely interested in. Some questions might be answered easily, whilst others may need to be explored at a later date or after further exploration of the book.
Returning to the text
At all stages, invite the children to share their ideas and responses. Avoid asking too many leading or closed questions. The prompts below are merely intended to be used as supplementary questions. Please select or adapt the questions which you think are most appropriate for the children you are working with. They will ask and answer many of their own questions if they are encouraged to look closely at the pictures and discuss their ideas.
Ask the children to work in pairs. One child reads the original story and the other reads the amended story. What voices did they choose to use and why? They may wish to use a solemn and serious but sugary tone for the original narrator and an evil, crazed voice for the maniacal Battle Bunny. They could read the stories at the same time or separately, to compare the two versions.
- What does Birthday Bunny like to eat for breakfast? What does Battle Bunny like to eat?
- Can you make a list of the vocabulary used in both stories and discuss how the initial words have been changed?
- What are the names of the other animals in the story?
- What is Battle Bunny’s ‘Evil Plan’?
- How is Battle Bunny eventually defeated?
- Can you re-tell each version of the story?
- How does the story end in Birthday Bunny? How does it end in Battle Bunny?
- What impression do you get of Gran? Why?
- How do you think Alex feels about his Gran?
- What sort of child do you think Alex is? How old do you think he is? What sort of things does he enjoy doing? Does he like reading? Would you describe him as: clever, creative, bored?
- How do the animals change in Alex’s version of the story?
- Which version of the story did you prefer and why? Encourage the children to justify their answers, using examples from the story, and use the conversation to challenge their thinking.
- Who are the real authors of this book? Is it Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnes? Matthew Myers? Is it Alex? Or could it even be Battle Bunny? Or a combination of all of these?
- How important are the illustrations to the story? Would the story work as effectively without the pictures and drawings?
- Why do you think the authors and illustrators created this book, in this style?
After Reading – Themes and Cross-curricular links
Ask the children to discuss the process they think the authors and illustrator worked through to produce the book. Which version was written first? Were they written at the same time? How did the illustrator work alongside the authors? There are a number of interesting interviews online where the trio discuss the journey involved in creating, and defacing, Birthday/Battle Bunny. Discuss with the children their thoughts about this process – have the authors and illustrators created something new and original? Is anything ever really original? This could lead on to a number of interesting discussions about graffiti or the onslaught of re-boots produced by Hollywood of classic films.
Show the children some artwork by Duchamp – ‘L.H.O.O.Q’ is especially good at highlighting the idea of transforming the ordinary into something strange and humorous. Discuss his art in relation to the ‘Dada’ movement and the notion of ‘Readymades’.
Your own bunny story
Give each of the children copies of Birthday Bunny. Challenge them to make their own bunny story by writing and drawing over the original. They could create their own Zombie Bunny or Ballerina Bunny.Twisted fairy tales
Give the children copies of traditional tales, such as Snow White or Goldilocks and ask them how they would change the plot, language layout and structure of the book to make it more exciting and appealing to a certain target audience. Scenes from Shrek are a good starting point for examining how this genre can be subverted. The Frog Prince Continued, also By Jon Scieszka, is another quirky and witty take on the traditional tale. In Battle Bunny, there is a hilariously defaced picture of Peter Rabbit being given poison, rather than the traditional dose of chamomile. Can the children ‘upgrade’ a Beatrix Potter story for the 21st Century?
Ask the children to design a soundtrack to both books, using their voices. Birthday Bunny might be accompanied by the whistling winds, chirping birds, rustling leaves or the trickle of a stream, to create a gentle and sweet atmosphere. On the other hand, Battle Bunny might be enhanced with manic laughter, explosions, gasps and screams.
Comparing and contrasting
Use a ‘double bubble map’ to compare the setting of each story or the character of the bunny, pre and post Alex’s changes. How are they similar? How are they different? This is an excellent tool for encouraging the children to think reflectively and examine relationships. Colour coding the similarities and differences may make these relationships more obvious for some children.
Guide written by Ian Eagleton
Copyright Just Imagine Story Centre 2016
All rights reserved.
This guide may be printed and used for education purposes. t may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any other format without permission.