When I was in the 7th grade, my English teacher assigned us Watership Down by Richard Adams. I remember rolling my eyes as she placed the book on my desk. At this point in my life, I was obsessed with Stephen King, John Saul and other “adult” novels. I was above reading books about talking animals. This was baby stuff.
We studied the novel for about 6 weeks, the whole time, my friends and I cracking jokes and talking about how silly it was that Mrs. Shay was forcing us to read such juvenile fare. While I know I read the book at the time, I got absolutely nothing out of it.
Flash-forward to several years ago, I heard someone that I respected say that Watership Down was her favorite book. That bunny book? That Watership Down? I tried to remember the plot, and all I could recall was talking rabbits with their own ridiculous made-up language. So I decided maybe I should give it another try. Maybe I’d missed something when I read it all those years ago. So I picked up a used copy at a library book sale and read it. I was riveted. I couldn’t believe that this was the same book I had mocked in the 7th grade.
Yes, Watership Down is about talking rabbits. They do, in fact, have their own language, which to my 12 year old ears, sounded quite silly. But by Frith, this was the best book I had read in a long time. It’s about so much more than bunnies. The story is about being different, having the courage to make your own way in the world, survival and leadership. Richard Adams’s writing is rich and beautiful, he created not only a lapine language, but a mythology to explain their world. At times profound, this was a book I would come back to numerous times over the years and I always get something new with each reread.
A few years ago, I decided that I needed to share this book with my children. But I worried that, like me, they would think a book about talking rabbits was beneath them. So we did it as a read aloud. My love of the story, and their trust in my ability to choose books that appeal to them was enough, and it became a family favorite.
I wish sometimes that I could go back in time and tell my 13 year old self to stop being an idiot. The phrase “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” exists for a reason. So if you, or your child saw Watership Down and thought it sounded silly, give it a try. Set aside judgement and just experience the journey with Hazel, Fiver, and the rest of the warren. I promise you won’t regret it.
Do you have any books that you originally scoffed at, but eventually grew to love? Let us know in the comments below!