Schadrach – Meindert DeJong

Shadrach-Meindert-DeJong_cover

Davie, a young Dutch boy, gets a pet caged rabbit, Shadrach. Once it arrives, it seems nothing goes right, especially when know-it-all big brother Rem gets involved.

I got this book for my 7th birthday, according to the inscription. A long time ago, but it’s stuck in my mind for all these years, perhaps in part for its unusual phrase “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-we-go.” Mostly, though, because it’s so well written.

I’m not a big fan of rabbits as pets (though we had one when I was about Davie’s age), and particularly not of the way Shadrach is treated – he’s kept in a small hutch in a dark barn – but if you can look past that, this is a moving story that perfectly captures childhood desire.

Davie, the young boy, wants a black rabbit – so much that he can’t sleep, and that, once it’s on its way, he spends much of his time preparing and worrying. He gets his clothes dirty, gets in trouble, and makes one mistake after another. The genius of the book is that all of these are incidental details. The main thing is Shadrach, and Davie’s concern for him. DeJong does a beautiful job of telling the story from young Davie’s perspective, focusing on the things Davie cares about, and letting all the rest go. From that perspective, it’s a terrifying (but not too terrifying) ride, with one danger after another for the little rabbit.

Of course, everything ends well – it’s a children’s book, after all – but to Davie, that’s not certain. While Shadrach’s life in the hutch doesn’t look good from an adult perspective, the story does do a good job of showing that having a pet involves more than petting and play – it’s about responsibility and knowledge.

The illustrations, by Maurice Sendak, are perfect.

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