Opening this book for younger readers conjured memories of the way a new book from the school or public library (or better yet, under the Christmas tree!) made me feel when I was a child. Something about the cover illustration and the first few pages brought back the pleasure of anticipating a new story. I’m pretty sure this book would have appealed to an eight-year-old me.
Olive is a schoolgirl in country South Australia. She longs for a pet rabbit, but rabbits have been a feral pest in Australian farms and bushland since they were first introduced during British colonisation. Her beloved grandpa has just bought ‘Bunny Rid’ poison to clear their farm of the wild creatures, so she knows that a pet bunny must remain a dream.
Then one day, one hundred fluffy white bunnies arrive at her house, accompanied by a talking black rabbit called Robbit.
She has to work out how to hide the rabbits until she and Robbit can get them back to where they came from: a small town in England. Also, how is the velvet top hat she bought from a local op-shop connected to the mystery of how the rabbits got to Australia in the first place?
I loved the character of Olive: she is smart, adventurous, and compassionate; all qualities that allow her (with help from her friends) to outwit a villain and rescue Robbit and his bunny buddies. Through it all Olive learns that expressing her opinion is okay, and to have faith in her ability to problem solve.
I also enjoyed the setting: a very contemporary Aussie farm, Massey-Ferguson tractor and all, with a contemporary farming family (and a FIFO dad who works at a mine) coping with the ups and downs of rural life – including a potential rabbit plague.
There is a gentle environmentally themed message which underlies both Olive’s dilemma with the rabbits and the theme of her class play (the reason she bought the Marvello top hat from the op-shop, to become part of her costume.)
This story allows children to imagine the wonder and absurdities inherent in fluffy bunnies, magic and an enchanted hat. It’s a fun read that will be enjoyed by younger middle-grade readers. The lovely black and white illustrations by Lavanya Naidu draw the reader further into the story and Olive’s world.
The Hats of Marvello is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in March 2023.
My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.