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Tops & Bottoms: 03/17/19
Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens is a picture book story about some industrious hares teaching their bear neighbor a lesson. The story is a retelling of a Brer Rabbit tale.
The gist of this book is that Bear, a landowner — a plantation owner — is too lazy to do his own work. The hares do all the work. To obscure the fact that the hares are stand-ins for slaves, they are recast as neighbors.
With the hares as neighbors, their motivation to farm Bear's land is weird. Granted, the hares are a huge, hungry family. Granted too that lagomorphs do raid gardens (see the second Fenway and Hattie book, for example) but here you have anthropomorphized animal characters sometimes doing animal things because it's convenient for the plot.
The focus instead is taken to how the hares trick Bear during their one year of farming for him. When they give them the "tops", they only grow root vegetables. When they give him the "bottoms" they only grow plants that produce edible parts above ground. When he wants both the "tops and bottoms", they grown corn and take the "middle" (aka the ears of corn).
What is left unanswered is why did they do this for bear in the first place? If he's not forcing them through slavery, why not just till their own land. If their land isn't big enough to feed the entire family, what happens next year? Does Bear share? Does he hire them to do the work?