An Unexpected Wrangle with the Easter Bunny

Elizabeth Bluemle -- March 20th, 2015

easter grass roundWe’ve always been surprised by how good business is around Easter. You’d think Valentine’s Day would be the stronger bookselling holiday, but the Easter Bunny brings better sales than St. Valentine and St. Patrick put together. Some of it is likely due to the optimism New Englanders feel in springtime; those newly sunny, springy days bring out happy shoppers. And some of it may be due to parents, these healthy Vermonters, wanting to pop something in their kids’ Easter baskets that doesn’t contain sugar.

For 18 years, we’ve had ads or a signboard for the store that says, Fill Their Baskets with Books. When there’s time, those words on the signboard are nestled in a festive drawing of a basket with eggs and a couple of books. When there isn’t, just the words suffice.

In the past, my concerns about the sign were only about whether it might be too Christian. After all, of course, many families don’t celebrate Easter Sunday. And even though the Easter Bunny is as far removed symbolically from the religious Easter story in the national imagination as candy canes are from the traditional Christmas story, it is still a Christian holiday. Occasionally, we’ve chosen a signboard that mentions both Easter and Passover, but Passover isn’t a gift-giving holiday like Hanukkah is, and we have never sold many Passover books beyond family Haggadahs and a few picture and board books, so it hasn’t been too worrisome to highlight Easter as a holiday with a big place for books.

So I was surprised when one of our staff members mentioned her discomfort with our sign because it might tip off kids old enough to read to the fact that parents, um, help out the Easter Bunny. As a kid who clung to a belief in Santa for a long time, I am sympathetic to the charms of childhood magic and am happy to uphold and protect children’s delight and belief in that magic. The current signboard has no images and doesn’t mention Easter at all; the words “fill their baskets with books” could simply mean, “fill their shopping baskets with books,” but its proximity to Easter is definitely suspect. On the other hand, it seems pretty easy to come up with explanations that don’t shatter the story. Perhaps the Easter Bunny solicits parental help for the non-egg, non-candy portions of Easter gifting, especially since it doesn’t know a child’s reading interests. Unlike Santa, who has armies of elves gathering intel, the Easter Bunny hops alone.

Yesterday, our bookseller who is uncomfortable with the sign received a phone call from a customer, a lovely person whose family shops often at the store and prefaced her concerns with the sign by saying how much they love our store. The customer’s daughter is nine, and though the child hasn’t seen our signboard yet, her mom is worried that she would read it driving by the store and begin to doubt. “It’s not a nice sign,” said our bookseller to us privately, and that gave me serious pause. Is it really not a nice sign? Aren’t there so many ads about Easter on TV, and so many displays in markets and drugstores that would send an even less subtle message about who is responsible for the goodies that show up on lawns and in houses across the country? Is our little sign really likely to be the big spoiler? I suppose that doesn’t really matter. I’m not responsible for the choices other advertisers make, but I am responsible for my own.

Perhaps personal bias makes me less sensitive about the Easter issue. I loved Easter as a kid — the hard fist-sized sugar eggs you could peer into, with miniature scenes inside! the malted milk robin’s eggs with their pale, pretty speckles; the Peeps, which I preferred slightly stale and chewy; the bright oblong candy eggs that held a center of spun fluffy sugar; the sugar sugar sugar! and the messy happy egg-dyeing. I clearly remember the eerie magic of going to my grandmother’s little house in Phoenix and searching for the baskets the Easter Bunny had hidden there — always behind the bedroom doors — for my sister and me. But frankly, the Easter Bunny didn’t rate like Santa. I was not strongly attached to the notion of the giant bunny and didn’t feel it had any particular interest in me as a person, unlike the jolly red-suited grandfather-type who invited a letter filled with my hopes and dreams once a year. And so perhaps I am not as attuned to sensitivities around this holiday.

Maybe we do need to rethink our signboard. Perhaps for many children, Easter Bunny magic might be overturned by the suggestion that parents help out with some of the goodies. It’s hard to let go of the sign altogether, though. Since books are such welcome additions to Easter baskets, but not necessarily intuitive ones, we have always felt that a little suggestion brings in a lot of business. But is it worth alienating families?  I don’t want to contribute to less magic in the world. One of the great joys of bookselling — of being human — is bringing delight and surprise to the lives of little people.

I suspect there’s a better tag line out there that might serve the purpose with less risk of spoiling the surprise — and I know which bookseller I’m going to ask to write it.

13 thoughts on “An Unexpected Wrangle with the Easter Bunny

  1. Sarah J

    So I just polled my students (High School Juniors). They pointed out that you can’t walk into a grocery store and miss the baskets, grass, plastic eggs and candy that fill the shelves. However, they said as little kids they were oblivious and didn’t notice until one day at a certain age they looked at it and “put two and two together and thought…wait a minute…”.

    So my students were of the opinion that you should keep your sign because most kids won’t notice and the ones that do are ready.

  2. David Rozansky

    I’ve a story that fits here.

    I’m Jewish, my wife is Christian. We’ve always been comfortable in each other’s faith. In fact, my wife cooks a great kugle for Passover.

    When our daughter came along, there was some tension, however. That my daughter’s birthday falls on the Easter/Passover floating schedule only added to it.

    In a show of family unity, around my daughter’s second birthday, I took her out to an Easter Egg hunt. The church volunteers sprrad out the eggs while we all watched from the sidelines, maybe 500-1000 kids and their parents. Then they blew the whistle.

    The rush was terrifying. My daughter was trampled, abd we were instantly separated. The throng went rabid in its greed and avarice for penny toys in plastic eggs while I madly searched for a frightened, possibly injured child.

    Other parents eventually helped to reunite us. In that three minutes, I had come to know a parent’s worst fear and the area had been picked clean. Some parent offered my daughter an emptied egg.

    I left the park in disgust. I couldn’t—still can’t—understand how this church-sponsored ritual does anything more than to teach children the value of grabbing all you can without concern for the safety or welfare of others. Not exactly a celebration of the resurrection.

    Instead, I drove my daughter to the nearest bookstore, and bought her a book that essentially taught the lesson of carong for others, to undo the lesson of the Easter Bunny. The quiet serenity of the Tattered Cover’s children’s section was an excellent location to sit with my child and teach my child about the blessings of the Spring holidays.

    Now, the bookstore is our Passover-Easter tradition. Fill the basket with books? Done and done and done again.

    In advising a bookseller on how to incorporate Easter into their store without offending their Jewish clients, I came upon this idea: Have an egg and afikomen hunt in the store. (During Passover seder, one half of a matza is hidden by one of the adults, and as it is the desert, the kids must find it at the end of the meal, in return for a reward such as a sweet or a silver dollar. And yes, I admit this is The same as an Easter Egg hunt).

    The store can place plastic eggs, cardboard aifikomen and some plastic dafodils about the store. Any kid who finds one of each gets a special prize like a penny toy (or a sample book, if a publisher will pitch in). The eggs, afikomen and flowers can be restocked through the day, and as having more than one egg is meaningless, there is no mad dash to get them all.

    It’s cross-cultural, and celebrates what the two holidays have in common: New Starts and Emergence of Spring. Oh, and it sells books.

    (My daughter has taken to writing her own picture books. While I wrote this comment, she came in with her new Easter manuscript: The Easter Chick, who comes out of an Easter Egg in the spring, reads stories to all the girls and boys. Put that in your basket, Bunny.)

    David Rozansky, Publisher
    Flying Pen Press

  3. Freeman Ng

    Inspired by Josie’s comment:

    “The Easter Bunny Shops Here!”

    With a picture of the Easter Bunny pulling a book off a shelf to put into its basket, which contains both eggs and books.

  4. Stephanie Kilgore

    It’s a wonderful sign and I tend to agree that after 18 years only two complaints is still low on the need for change. However, with that said, and understanding you wanting to keep as many happy as possible, what about just adding “Easter Bunny – ” to the sign before “Fill their baskets with books”? For the record though – kids are WAY more savvy these days and are going along with the act for their parents at a younger age!

  5. Spellbound

    Perhaps something more along the lines of “The Easter Bunny Shops Here” for treats (books) that really last…

    I remember once being confronted by a young customer, a true believer, about why and how Santa had given him a GC to our bookstore. He loved it, but was confused. His mom and I explained that Santa knew how much he loved picking out books in our store and sent an elf to buy one for him.

    Like the scouts, we must always be prepared.

  6. Kenny Brechner

    Here’s what I’m thinking Elizabeth. It’s time to add to the narrative, to reveal the truth. Namely that The Easter Bunny has an identical twin who, ala the Main in the Iron Mask, he has kept locked away from public view in a dank prison cell. The dispute between the twins arose because the bunny we know as The Easter Bunny preferred distributing eggs, while his identical twin was in favor of distributing books. One day, when the Egg Bunny came to gloat over his brother, as he often did, the Book Bunny turned the table on him and escaped, leaving the Egg Bunny a prisoner in his place. Not wanting to blow his cover the Book Bunny still brings eggs around but now slips in lots of books too. What do you think?

  7. Suzanne Fass

    Wait–after eighteen years, ONE staff member expressed concern, and ONE customer expressed concern to ONLY that staff member? While the criticism is not to be ignored, should you really, seriously consider changing what seems to have been a good thing for so long based on such a limited sample size? It doesn’t sound like consensus to me. What do your other staff members think? And what about a wider range of customers? Even other merchants in your town?

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      Suzanne, it comes down to this for me: it’s a win-win if I can come up with a sign that’s an equally good invitation/reminder that is more opaque to children. I don’t cave to book censorship, and this is a different issue — two people raised a question, and it’s always worth considering staff and customer feedback. I won’t always agree, of course, but my hope in work and life is to contribute to the amount of joy and happiness around me, not diminish it, so if there’s a way I can do that, why not?

  8. Josie Leavitt

    I think this will come as no surprise from me: let’s keep the sign. For 18 years it’s been a reminder that there’s more to the Easter season than Peeps, jelly beans and lambie cakes. And honestly, one sign shouldn’t be enough to shake a child’s belief in the Easter Bunny. Plus, it’s not our fault if the Easter Bunny (who I understand is an excellent reader of all things Beatrix Potter) shops here.

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