What if Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor Had Joined Forces?

A Rabbit’s Tale
By Maryrose Wood

As “Alice’s Farm” opens, the Harveys — Carl, a fifth grader; his baby sister, Marie; and their parents, Sally and Brad — have just moved from Brooklyn to the country with a dream of becoming farmers. (Oh, and they’ve brought Foxy, a Shiba Inu.)

Right away, the novel’s main villain, the local developer Tom Rowes, offers to buy the land for double what they paid, maybe to build a small shopping center or a gated community. The previous owner had refused to sell to him, because Rowes didn’t want to farm the beautiful land.

Alice is a brave young cottontail who, along with her brother, Thistle, sets out to save the Harveys from their naïveté about what it takes to run a small farm. The two bunnies fear that if the Harveys don’t succeed, their habitat will be destroyed when the family runs out of money and eventually does need to sell to Rowes.

The supporting cast of characters includes a bald eagle named John Glenn, quite a few chipmunks, a weasel (the novel’s second villain), a fox named Doggo and an elderly rabbit named Lester, along with an array of other bunnies.

Alice manages to enlist these animals — including her natural predators — in her plan to keep away “the Mauler,” the bulldozer that arrives when land is being developed. One reason she’s able to be so brave: “Cottontails aren’t sentimental about all the ways they’re likely to get eaten. That’s just the way life is, for a rabbit.”

Marie helps as well, because babies understand the language of animals. Later, Carl, too, realizes what’s going on, when the rabbits manage to cultivate an entire field of perfect vegetables.

There are many twists and turns along the way, caused sometimes by the animals but often by the humans. “‘Humans are different. You get to make up your own minds about so many things. It must be’ — the dog yawned — ‘very tiring, having to do so much thinking all the time.’”

Many things about this novel by Maryrose Wood (“The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place”) are old-fashioned: the perhaps too leisurely pacing, the good-guys-versus-bad-guys view of the world, the somewhat complicated but mostly simple characters, even the wonderfully clever charm. The book seems to be about a time and place that existed once, if only in our collective imagination, and in Christopher Denise’s gorgeous cover illustration.

Decades ago, I read a novel called “The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek,” and its sequel. I remember those books as fun, full of adventure and in no way trying to realistically capture the dino-ness of the stegosaurus, just as “Alice’s Farm” doesn’t try to capture the rabbitness of the rabbits or eagleness of the eagle. But the colors and smells and tastes, and the animals, feel real anyway. The stegosaurus books may not be at the level of what we now see as classics. But during the long, hard days and nights of my parents’ fierce divorce, I needed them.

Only future generations can decide if a book will last until 2030 or 2050 or beyond. But I suspect ones like “Alice’s Farm” — delightful and quirky and full of good will — are necessary for some kids right now. This is a novel that can take them somewhere else, while the grown-ups try to figure out what might seem these days like pretty much everything.

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