The Bunnicula Collection
The Celery Stalks at Midnight
By James and Deborah Howe
Unabridged recording published by Listening Library
Read by Victor Gerber
I first became aware of the Bunnicula Collection not long after I got out of grad school. The third book of the series had just been released and the bookstores were featuring large cardboard-outs of a rabbit with red, glowing eyes. Now you might wonder why I was even interested in a children’s book. Well, I’ve never been a literary snob and the idea tickled me. They did not cost much, even by my impoverished standards so I bought the set.
What I found were a trio of delightful stories, classified as children’s books, but not just for children. I have often maintained that good writing is good writing regardless of genre, intended audience, length of story or any other criterion you care to propose, and this is good writing. These are good stories that children can enjoy whether they read it or have it read to them and because they are good stories, adults can enjoy them as well. In short, they do not exclude anyone from the audience.
Every so often someone produces something remarkable that transcends all age groups. There have been the Looney Tunes, the Animaniacs, and Phineas and Ferb and most of Pixar’s offerings in the realm of cartoons, but in literature there have been far few examples. The early Harry Potter books come to mind, but most of the others I find are primarily written for a younger audience. Perhaps that’s necessary. I mean, seriously, can you imagine War and Peace: the Graphic Novel? Well, actually I can. I can’t imagine wanting to read it. Then again I didn’t enjoy most issues of the old series “Classics Illustrated” so.. Heh! I just had to check the list of “Classics Illustrated to make sure they didn’t actually do a rendition of War and Peace. They didn’t, but they did do Les Miserables and Faust, so, maybe had the series continued…
Hmm, tangent there…
Bunnicula is a bunny rabbit found in a shoebox with dirt in it outside a movie theatre which was showing ”Dracula” (version unspecified), hence the name. As we are told, by Harold, the Monroe Family dog, Chester, the cat, immediately decided the rabbit was a vampire, a conclusion that was apparently borne out by the appearance of vegetables from which all the juice had been sucked out, leaving them dry and completely white. Chester continues throughout the book to do his best Van Helsing act until a solution is found by the oblivious humans, who never considered the possibility of a vampire rabbit. I was left to wonder if a vampire bunny would crave vegetable juice or would, instead, thirst for the blood of mortal bunnies, but quickly shelved the thought experiment to just enjoy the story.
Bunnicula was written by James and Deborah Howe, but Deborah Howe, sadly, died of cancer before she could collaborate with her husband on the rest of the series.
In Howliday Inn, the Monroes take a vacation, boarding Harold and Chester at Chateau Bow Wow, where they become embroiled in a murder mystery, that possibly involves a pair of purebred Wirehair Dachshund-Werewolves . The Celery Stalks at Midnight brings us back to a missing Bunnicula and the appearance of those vampiric white vegetables while Chester, Harold and young Howie (the runt of the Dachshunds’ litter in the second book) attempt to find the missing rabbit while putting stakes… well toothpicks… through the hearts of the rabbit’s undead vegetable minions.
Mister Howe has written several other Bunnicula books, but to date I have not read them. If they are as good as the first three, however, that is something I hope to remedy soon.
The Audio Books
Victor Gerber does a very good job of reading these stories. His pacing is good and unrushed and most of his character voices are clearly distinguishable from each other. There was too much similarity between the two Monroe boys, I thought, but fortunately the Howes’ writing abolished any chance of getting confused as to who was talking. His one weakness in these stories is that he did resort to what I refer to as “silly voices and accents” frequently, especially when other pets are talking. This is somewhat forgivable since they are animals, who in these stories, appear to be able to think and talk (in their own language) as well as humans can in their own. Some of them, such as Harold and Chester are apparently fully literate and read frequently, when the humans aren’t around to catch them, I suppose. So if I am willing to suspend disbelief on that count, perhaps I can allow a bulldog with British accent a poodle with a heavy French accent another dog with a n exaggerated Southern drawl and so forth.
In all, these a great stories that took me back to my post-grad school days (and might have taken me back to my childhood had they been written sooner) and the readings were as much fun to listen to as the books were to read. If you have children, definitely read these stories to them. If you do not have children, read them to yourself! They are that much fun!