Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng, translated by Elisa Amado
A young girl and her father are traveling, with little more than a backpack each. She counts what she sees to pass the time: cows, hens, a bored donkey, the clouds … and soldiers. Such reminders along the way reveal that danger is never far: too many people who live by the train tracks, questions that have no answers, waiting and moving, moving and waiting.
The text by Colombian-born, Mexico-domiciled author Jairo Buitrago is the little girl’s story: direct, simple, exactly as she experiences her peripatetic days with her protective father. The illustrations by Colombian artist Rafael Yockteng enhance and expose even more: the chucho (little dog, mutt) that returns on almost every page as the threatening, ever-present coyote (smuggler); the would-be immigrants piled on top of long trains with bundles, boxes, and hopes for a better life; the abusive border guards too ready to harass and punish; the father’s increasingly disheveled appearance; their stopover to work briefly at the “Plaza comercial el coyote del sur” where a bearded man has been drinking too much for too long. The titular ‘two white rabbits’ at book’s end are exchanged as a gift of friendship to the little girl from a little boy who receives her stuffed blue bunny in return. As father and daughter’s journey continues, the rabbits become transforming symbols of something beloved (companions), something sacrificial (purity), something hopeful (freedom), and even the threat of something sinister (two ghosts) …?
“We are back on the road,” the little girl announces on the penultimate page. What happens next remains – realistically – unclear.
Patricia Aldana, president of IBBY Foundation, “an international network of people from all over the world committed to bringing books and children together,” adds a poignant endnote explanation of desperate journeys, becoming refugees, and the almost 100,000 children from Central America alone who attempt the northbound trek toward a less-than-reliable promise of safety.
“What do those of us who have safe comfortable lives owe to people who do not?” Aldana asks. With international refugees currently making worldwide headlines, Two White Rabbits belongs on bookshelves everywhere: it’s an extraordinary, compelling first step to understanding and empathy, and a persuasive teaching tool to inspire effective doing.