A Mysterious Turn of Events: A Review of ‘Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery’

By Deborah and James Howe

A dog has one aim in life…. to bestow his heart. J. R. Ackerley

A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.  Ernest Hemingway

Reading Level:

Grades 4-5

Review and Thoughts

Before the actual story begins James Howe, the author, explains the evolution of Bunnicula — how he and his wife created a group of characters who became a story and ultimately how that story became the book, Bunnicula.

The Editor’s Note is quite clever and explains how the story of Bunnicula is then delivered to the editor by a dog carrying a large brown envelope.  Inside the envelope is a letter addressed to the editors. The letter is actually written by the dog and explains that the manuscript, also in the envelope, is written in his own words.  It tells a true story about his family (names changed to protect family), and he hopes they find it interesting enough to publish.

The Story

It is a dark and stormy night.  Really. The Monroe family brings home a little bunny they find at a theater while watching the movie Dracula. The intrigue begins when they discover a note written in an exotic language around the bunny’s neck that translates to, “Take care of my baby.”  All the humans in the family are more than happy to take care of the new pet.   After much discussion and debate, the family agrees to name the bunny Bunnicula.

There are also two other pets in the family who have opinions about the new addition.  First, there is Harold, the faithful watchdog and my personal favorite character. Dog pet owners will appreciate Harold’s willingness to please.  He has a sense of fairness and honesty as he expresses exactly what he likes as a dog and his true feelings about the events in the story.  He also offers a bit of wisdom to the reader. Then, there is Chester, the cat, named after G. K. Chesterton.  As a kitten, he developed a taste for reading (his favorite being mysteries).  Chester reads from a book every night, and because of that he has a vivid imagination. Cat pet owners will identify with Chester’s non-conformist and sensitive personality.

From the first meeting, Chester feels there is something odd about Bunnicula.  He watches him very closely. During his surveillance he sees Bunnicula assume an odd, sinister appearance.   Then he finds him in the kitchen, which is very puzzling.  When the family discovers vegetables that have turned white and dry, Chester understands what Bunnicula has been up to on his nighttime forays to the kitchen.  He presents all his evidence to Harold and asks Harold for help in proving his theory. First, he believes Bunnicula is a danger to everyone in the house.  Then, he suspects the little bunny is not what everyone thinks he is.  He points out to Harold that Bunnica sleeps all day, is awake at night, has “eyes intense and an unearthly aura about them,” and he has pointy fangs.  Finally, Chester states his deduction rather dramatically, “He’s a vampire!  Today, vegetables.  Tomorrow….the world!”

Harold is not convinced that there is anything odd about Bunnicula but as a faithful friend he listens to Chester rant.  Chester has several plans to trap Bunnicula and help the family understand that he is indeed a vampire bunny, and Harold agrees to be part of some of them. At first, Chester tries to stay awake all night so he can catch Bunnicula in the act.  He even tries to pantomime a vampire to the family but no one understands him.  The family continues to find white vegetables every night so Chester decides to take matters into his own hands. Each overt plan only ends badly for Chester so he moves onto a more secretive strategy that he does not even discuss with Harold.

After awhile Harold begins to sympathize with Bunnicula, and surprisingly he begins to like him.  He feels he is a good listener.  Harold has a very stressful dilemma however.  Bunnicula is a new friend who seems wrongly accused, and Chester is an old friend who seems to have” flipped out.”  He eventually discovers that Chester has been keeping Bunnicula from the kitchen by wearing garlic around his neck and guarding the door.  Bunnicula cannot get to the kitchen for food, and he is starving. Harold decides to rescue Bunnicula and get him to some food but complete chaos ensues when Chester discovers this plan.

The Monroes are very concerned about their pets’ strange behavior, especially Chester, so they take all of them to the vet for a check-up.  Bunnicula is given carrot juice and begins to recover.  He does so well with the juice that the Monroes continue giving it to him, and they never find another white vegetable.  Harold is just fine, which is a relief to Harold because he thinks it is time for another shot but happily it is not. Chester is sent to a pet psychologist and diagnosed with sibling rivalry. The Monroes never do find out about Chester’s theories about Bunnicula or Bunnicula’s true nature.

Harold expresses his own personal thoughts. “I can tell you that happy endings are possible, even in situations fraught with complications as this one was.” At the conclusion of the story, he presents the facts and feels it is up to the reader to decide.

Even though the book is titled Bunnicula, he is quite silent, and the reader gets only a few glimpses into what the bunny is thinking. Harold and Chester are the real “stars” of this story. Their conversations are quite humorous and a lot of fun to read.  Their personal thoughts keep the action moving. The story also includes some very good vocabulary for fourth and fifth graders.  These words add to the enjoyment and comprehension of the story. The book could also be a read aloud book for children close to this age.  The humor may be not be appreciated by much younger children however.

This book is not the usual vampire story that children may be exposed to on television or movies. It is a fantasy story that children in the suggested age range will enjoy.  Harold and Chester definitely make the book worth reading.

Possible Issues

  • Pete punches his brother Toby.
  • Bunnicula is a vampire bunny.

Further Discussion

  • Define anthropomorphic and find examples in the book.
    • described or thought of as being like human beings in appearance, behavior, etc. considering animals, objects, etc. as having human qualities
    • attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals or natural phenomena
  • Compare and contrast the characters of Harold and Chester.
    • Use a Venn diagram to help organize ideas. (There is a lot of information so the diagram should be large enough to include it all.)

Catholic Resources

  • St. Roch is the patron saint of dogs.
  • St. Gertrude is the patron saint of cats and cat lovers.
  • Prayer: Saint Francis of Assisi, for Our PetsGood St. Francis, you loved all of God’s creatures. To you they were your brothers and sisters. Help us to follow your example of treating every living thing with kindness. St. Francis, Patron Saint of animals, watch over my pet and keep my companion safe and healthy. Amen.

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