The Rabbits

The Rabbits Study Guide

The Rabbits is a 1999 picture book that depicts rabbits invading a country and displacing the indigenous marsupial population. An allegory for the British colonization of Australia, the story shows how the rabbits' and marsupials' initial neutrality descends into violent conflict and the erasure of the marsupials' culture. As the rabbit population increases, the rabbits radically alter and pollute the landscape while killing large numbers of marsupials.

Written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan, The Rabbits uses the unassuming format of a picture book to present a sobering allegorical rendering of the colonization of Australia, which started in the 1780s. Narrated from the perspective of the numbat-like marsupials, The Rabbits explores the themes of colonial invasion, grief, environmental degradation, and cultural erasure. Although the implicit setting for the book is Australia, the absence of direct references to history means the book's allegorical exploration of the detrimental effects of colonization on indigenous culture is applicable to colonial contexts around the world.

Named 2000's Picture Book of the Year by the Children's Book Council of Australia, The Rabbits has generated controversy for exploring such serious themes in a book aimed at such young readers. The book has also been called "politically correct propaganda" in right-wing media. But the outrage expressed by a minority of critics didn't stop Opera Australia from commissioning an adaptation of The Rabbits. The adaptation won awards for Best New Australian Work, Best Original Score, Best Presentation for Children, and Best Costume Design at Australia’s version of the Tony Awards—the Helpmann Awards—in 2015.