LEO THE LOP
1977 | WRITTEN BY STEPHEN COSGROVE | ILLUSTRATED BY ROBIN JAMES
“In a warm, gentle corner of a soft, green forest a whole bunch of bunnies were born.” I hear Cosgrove’s first sentence and I can picture the central character Leo in one of my favourite childhood books.
Leo the Lop is part of the Serendipity series of children’s books, with a total of 70 books in the series, all written by Stephen Cosgrove and illustrated by Robin James.
Cosgrove decided to write the books after looking for easy-to-read books with a message to read to his 3-year old daughter. He wanted to create low-cost softcover books. When he couldn’t find a publisher that would publish his stories as softcovers, he created his own publishing company, Serendipity Press and the first books were published in 1974.
There are so many things that I like about Cosgrove’s publishing story. Cosgrove had a real vision for what he wanted his books to be, and when no established publisher agreed with him, he just went out and did it himself. Self-publishing in a time when that wasn’t even a thing yet. He’s my new personal hero!
We owned a few of the Serendipity books, all of which I kept and have read to my kids. Leo the Lop was always my favourite though. Leo was different from all the other rabbits – his ears flopped down instead of stood up. The other rabbits laughed at him and said, “You just aren’t normal!” So Leo hung upside down on a tree thinking that, if he showed his ears which way to go, “they’ll get the idea and go there on their own.” A possum came along and upon hearing what Leo was doing and said, “What’s normal?” remarking that he looked normal on the ground but hanging from the tree, Leo’s ears looked upside down.
Since Leo’s ears were normal, he then convinced the other rabbits that their ears weren’t normal. So they too hung from the tree branch and tied their ears to the branch, which is a totally hilarious drawing by the way.
The possum told them the same thing he told Leo. In the dramatic climax, the rabbits realized that “If we’re normal and Leo is normal, then normal is whatever you are!”
The story ends with one final problem for Leo – his ears drooping into his soup.
I should also mention the illustrations, which are beautiful and memorable. When I pulled this book out of my box of childhood books, I remembered Leo vividly and almost all of the illustrations even though I hadn’t laid eyes on the book for many many years.
This message in this story is timeless and a great lesson for all children. We don’t tend to use this kind of language with children anymore though – talking to them about what’s “normal.” And while that’s a good thing in some ways, I do think that most children feel different and even abnormal in some way at some point in their lives. I see that my 7-year-old son wants to fit in, wants to be liked and often feels different from other kids, which, unbeknownst to him, is pretty common.
Funnily enough, this story resonated with me and with other kids because I think most children feel different –feel “abnormal”– and so the moral of the story still holds: Whatever you are, that’s what normal is. Even if that’s feeling abnormal, that’s normal.
Our contributor: Kim Abrahamse has been a writer and editor since 2000. Currently she is working as a freelance writer, editor and web content producer as well as an SEO consultant for small agencies, businesses and solopreneurs.
Kim is a perpetual student – she is always taking a class of one kind or another and has taken many, many writing classes ranging from technical writing to copywriting to writing for children. She reads A LOT, has an embarrassing attachment to movie popcorn and has recently started writing children’s poetry (after rediscovering her love for Shel Silverstein). She is also writing a Middle Grade/YA novel where the main character is a young girl, aptly named Abnorma.