Halfway through my month of spooky reads for kids, I’m revisiting a book I read in 6th grade. Bunnicula, by Deborah and James Howe, was first published in 1979. Since then, it’s amassed a huge fan following, evidenced by the tributes included in the 40th anniversary version I read. Max Brallier, author of The Last Kids on Earth series, Eerie Elementary and last week’s featured Mister Shivers: Beneath the Bed, writes: “To this day, Bunnicula is still unlike anything I’ve ever read. Scary, funny, strange, unexpected. I’m lucky to have read it as a child.” I share this sentiment with Mr. Brallier and I hope your child will, too.
Our story opens in the home of the Monroe family. Mr. and Mrs. Monroe and their two sons, Toby and Pete, are out at a movie. Their pets, Chester the cat and Harold the dog, await their return. Suddenly, the family bursts into the home with much theatrics. There’s a flash of lighting outside and through the light you can see that Mr. Monroe is cradling a small white bundle with tiny, glistening eyes.
Soon, it becomes clear that after their movie ended (Dracula, as it were), the family happened upon a tiny, abandoned rabbit and decided to bring him home. After some discussion, they decide to name the bundle Bunnicula, in honor of his bunny-ness and the movie they had watched before finding him. Chester is immediately suspicious of the newest addition, while Harold is more aloof.
Chester decides to keep tabs on the little bunny and one evening, while on a stakeout mission, he becomes convinced that Bunnicula has escaped his cage and is rummaging around in the refrigerator. He’s unable to prove the great escape, however the next morning there are sounds of disbelief coming from the kitchen. It appears as though there’s a white tomato in the fridge. All of its juice has been sucked out and it’s now very hard.
The family is perplexed but the chalk it up to the tomato having gone bad. But it hasn’t escaped Chester’s attention that there are two small fang marks on the tomato’s skin! He tells Harold that he’s been reading a book called Mark of the Vampire and he’s convinced that the newest fury addition is a blood, err… juice sucker, as well!!!
Harold remains unconvinced. He’s more interested in the bacon being eaten by his family in the other room. Later that evening, he nearly misses a rendezvous with Chester because Toby is having a feast in his bedroom, which Harold is all too happy to partake in. After finally getting his fill of chocolate cupcakes, he joins Chester in the living room.
Chester then proceeds to spend most of the chapter justifying the reasons that he believes Bunnicula to be a vampire. He’s nocturnal, he has fangs, he was found at a Dracula showing and he seems to suck the juices from tomatoes. Chester is so wrapped up in his explanation that he doesn’t notice that the bunny has escaped from its cage and entered the kitchen.
They arrive just in time to see a white poof escape from the kitchen. As they contemplate pursuing Bunnicula, they spy something white, lying lifelessly on the floor. Chester investigates as Harold’s heart beats out of his chest. It’s… a white zucchini!
Awakened by Mrs. Monroe’s screaming, Chester and Harold run to investigate, as Mr. Monroe charges into the room, face still covered in shaving cream. By now, Pete and Toby have joined in and there’s a full-scale commotion underway. It’s not hard to understand why… the kitchen is covered with the remnants of Bunnicula’s midnight feast. It wasn’t just a zucchini he devoured. No, there were now white beans, peas, squash, tomatoes and lettuce strewn about, as well!
As the humans try to rationalize the situation, Chester and Harold know exactly who’s to blame! In that moment, Chester gives the family his best Dracula impression, in an attempt to alert them to the bunny’s misdeeds. Instead, they conclude something must be wrong with him and vow to watch him more carefully for any other strange behavior!
That evening, Harold endures a restless sleep, awakened by a terrible odor. He finds Chester wearing a garlic necklace and he has one for Harold, too! Harold realizes that the entire room has been covered in garlic cloves, including a ring around Bunnicula’s cage! Chester is convinced that the garlic barricade has foiled the bunny, as no veggies had been drained of their juices overnight but Harold remains unconvinced.
The next morning, the family races around the house, getting ready for the day ahead. They don’t seem to notice the garlic mess or even the smell! A steak is left to thaw on the counter and this catches Chester’s attention. He explains that the vampire book says that driving a steak through the heart of a vampire will destroy it.
He’s shortly after found pummeling the still raw steak into poor Bunnicula. The steak is taken away but in one last desperate attempt, Chester emerges from the kitchen with a bowl of water. He tries to hurl it at Bunnicula but in his frenzied state, it ends up all over Harold instead. Having had enough of Chester’s antics, Mr. and Mrs. Monroe toss him outside and tend to the bunny. They determine that since the steak is now inedible, Harold should enjoy it. He then has a lovely evening with the family while Chester spends the night outside.
In the days following, Chester is on his best behavior. He won’t speak to Harold but he still pays close attention to the cat. At the same time, Harold realizes that Bunnicula doesn’t seem to feel well. He can’t get anyone in his family to understand him but he knows something is wrong.
Later that evening, Harold catches Chester blocking Bunnicula’s entry to the kitchen. He’s been starving him! Unable to help immediately, Harold vows that by sundown the next day, Bunnicula will eat. He finds his moment to act the following evening, just before dinnertime. He notices that Mrs. Monroe has placed a large salad on the dinner table and knows that if his timing is just right, he can get Bunnicula out of his cage and munching on those veggies before anyone else notices, particularly Chester.
Unfortunately, though his timing is perfect and his execution flawless, Chester still manages to foil his plan by entering the room before Bunnicula is able to drain even one piece of lettuce! A struggle between the three animals follows and, in the end, Chester lands right in the salad bowl, covering himself with dressing. He’s summarily given a bath and put outside again. Meanwhile, the family notices that Bunnicula isn’t well and they make plans to take all of the animals to the vet.
The following morning, the whole family heads to the vet’s office, where their individual problems are quickly sorted. Bunnicula is placed on a liquid diet of carrot juice, which he gladly slurps up. Harold is found to be up to date on his shots so he fares even better. Chester is referred to a feline psychologist to help treat what is determined to be a case of sibling rivalry, brought on by Bunnicula’s arrival.
He thrives under the treatment of Dr. Katz and never speaks of vampires again. Harold and Bunnicula become friends, though the bunny never says a word. The story concludes with Harold hoping to enjoy a chocolate cupcake in Toby’s room. I guess all’s well that ends well.
I would recommend Bunnicula for readers 8-12. I don’t feel it has any scary elements and don’t remember being scared as a child, either. It has just the right amount of suspense, drama and action to keep young readers engaged and excited for the book’s sequel, The Celery Stalks at Midnight.