Harry and her hare siblings are out for a walk when their unsuspecting parents are duped and devoured by a coyote. Destitute and with a newly empty bedroom in the house, the kids convert the space into a source of income: a hare B&B. But that hare-hungry coyote is still at large, and when a “homely rabbit” books a last-minute stay, the siblings suspect their new guest might not be who she claims.
A collaboration between CBC broadcaster and author Bill Richardson and Vancouver artist Bill Pechet, Hare B&B’s allusions to Airbnb and Twitter give the book a contemporary feel. A picture book that casts a canine against a lagomorph is also asking to be read in the context of the trickster animal tale traditions of West Africa and the Americas. But the creators veer away from these well-known coyote-and-hare traditions and offer a story that comes across more like a confused retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” valorizing violence and vengeance over trickster cunning. Any cleverness in Hare B&B runs only as deep as Richardson’s tech puns.
While we might expect hares to overcome stronger antagonists by their wits, in the end the hare family simply beats up the coyote and then molasses-and-feathers her for added humiliation. Though the denouement gestures toward thoughtful mores – the coyote is diverted from prison in favour of rehabilitation – Hare B&B doesn’t conclude with the orphans gaining confidence in their smarts. Instead, they only learn, in Richardson’s words, that the world is a “dangerous place.”
The art is whimsical, with sketchy, Steadman-esque distortions, and the seven-hare pram in the opening scenes stands out as delightfully Seussian. Pechet brings levity to the fight scene, the only point in which the images move the story forward; elsewhere, the text is overly expository and the art is relegated to decoration. And in an unfortunate parallel to Richardson’s facile allusions, Pechet ruptures his visual tone with a barely veiled Pepé Le Pew cameo that distracts from the narrative.
Hare B&B entertains on a first reading, but its cleverness is superficial, and its position relative to the traditions it wades into is not thoughtful. A pun can only go so far; without much to offer repeat readers, Hare B&B is unlikely to become a favourite.