Rabbits have long inhabited the literary briar patches of library bookshelves. There's Beatrix Potter's Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter. There's the Velveteen Rabbit, Br'er Rabbit, and Lewis Carroll's White Rabbit and March Hare.
The Pequot Library has added a new rabbit to its collection, but this one won't be found in a book. Instead, it can be found in its own hutch in the children's department. Youngsters will be able to hold this live bunny in their laps and read to it as they did to their beloved bunny Belle, who died on Dec. 6 just three weeks shy of her sixth birthday on Christmas Day, and to Puff, the reading rabbit who preceded Belle at the library.
Belle died unexpectedly. Children's Librarian Susan Ei said the rabbit had never been sick, unlike Puff who did require veterinary care before he passed away in December 2007. Puff is buried on the library grounds, and Belle will be too when the weather improves.
"I'm glad there's a new bunny. If there was not another bunny I would be so upset," said Allison Cancro, 7, of Westport.
The as-yet-unnamed reading ambassador was introduced to library visitors patrons Saturday. She is about 10 weeks old, a Mini Rex, and castor-colored, which is a rich chestnut color tipped with black and with cream colored circles around the eyes and chin. The bunny is litter box trained and will double in size to a maximum of four pounds as an adult.
Ei said she chose the Mini Rex breed because of its temperament. "She's very sweet and very gentle. She's a love. The Mini Rex is a great rabbit for children; responsive, friendly, curious, not shy," Ei said. Belle was also a Mini Rex.
The baby bunny seemed to pass her first test Saturday with flying colors. She remained calm all day even after she was introduced to dozens of children and adults who stopped by to meet her. And when Ei placed the bunny in an enclosure that gave her more freedom of movement, she demonstrated its curiosity hopping from one child to the next greeting every one. She was unafraid of the many fingers outstretched in her direction. She savored each caress and even stood up to get a closer view of some people.
"She's very soft. She's very cute," said Skye Selva, 6, of Fairfield.
"I think she's a hit," Ei said.
Erin Cancro, Allison's mother, called the animal "a sociable, snuggly bunny. We are actually thinking of getting a pet and she's winning me over."
Meg Rowland, 4, of Fairfield, asked her parents Mark and Sandy, if they could get a rabbit. Sandy Rowland said she liked the idea of the library rabbit instead because it's like having "a pet without having it at home; all the benefits of a pet without the hassle."
Cynthia Smith, of Fairfield, who came to meet the bunny with her daughter Gemma Burkarth, 6, said a the library rabbit offers companionship as well as therapeutic value. "It might help children who are having difficulties learning to read. It encourages them to read," Smith said.
Ei said the library staff won't rush to name the bunny. She wants to see the animal's personality and make sure the name suits her. She had children write down their suggestions and they came up with Bon Bon, Hopper, Fluffy Bunny, Jessica, Emerald and Ruby. One man recommended Easter.
Harlan Lewandowski, 4, of Fairfield, showed up with a page containing 27 suggestions that he and his sister Anna, 2½, thought up, among them Marshmallow, Cookie, Cotton Ball, Anna Banana, Sweet Apple, Little Pizza and Zebra.
"I chose Amber," said Elisabeth Sweer, 6, of Fairfield.
Once the rabbit acclimates to her new home, she will assume her reading program duties and will also accompany children on neighborhood walks in the "Puffmobile," just as Belle and Puff did, Ei said.