By Stan Friedman
YAKIMA, WA (April 24, 2014) — Anne McEwen hopes her new book, Miss Marian and the Bunnies from Wiley Heights, will help children—especially those in crisis—to better understand and experience God’s love.
McEwen began telling the stories to the Sunday school class of young children she taught at Wiley Heights Covenant Church.
Over time, she began to consider pulling them together into a book, an idea for which she received strong support from fellow church members and others in the community.
The 82-page book includes 12 stories in which Miss Marian helps two bunnies understand the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Each chapter ends with a quote from Isaiah about the character of God.
McEwen says she tried to connect the stories with realities that occur in children’s lives.
Storytelling is an essential way of capturing the imagination of children, says McEwen, explaining, “Stories help us to see Jesus.” She adds that it is through our imagination that Jesus reaches into people’s hearts.
McEwen imagined the stories based on real people in real places, however.
She modeled Miss Marian on Marian Anderson, a long-time church member whose family moved from Idaho to property near the church in 1943, when she was still in high school.
“She is absolutely beloved in the community and in this church,” says McEwen. “She is just so loving. I can’t imagine the valley without her.”
In the book, Miss Marian talks just like Anderson does, McEwen says. She also plays the violin for the bunnies who dance to the music just as Anderson plays on the church’s worship team.
People in the church have now taken to calling her “Miss Marian.” Anderson laughs. “It’s fun,” she says. “I never thought I’d be identified that way. I’m glad to be identified with the role.”
Several other members of the church are referenced in the book, too. The stories are rooted in the area’s history and culture. The titular bunnies are named Kanin and Broder, characters inspired by Pastor Mark Swanson’s sons, Oskar and Henrik.
Kanin means rabbit in Swedish, and Broder means brother in Norwegian. Action takes place on Swede Hill, which is where the congregation constructed its building in 1920.
McEwen has printed 400 of the books, which she sells for seven dollars, but many of them are given to children whose families might not otherwise be able to afford them or are experiencing a life crisis.
Money raised by selling the book helps fund the free distribution of other copies. At least 100 have been given to children who receive services at the Yakima YWCA emergency shelter and transitional programs.
“It’s not fair that children hurt, and we want to do anything we can to put something bright in their lives,” says Anderson.
Anderson initially asked a local bookstore owner if the books could be placed in the back of the store, but the owner offered to let her sit in front of the store and sell the books. The owner joined her at the table they set up.
Anderson wanted to give away the books, however. “As children came by, I’d say ‘Would you like a book?’ Their parents would come back and ask how much they owed.” Anderson delighted in telling them the books were free.
Anderson and others at the church place the books into pouches fashioned out of recycled quilts, comforters, and other materials. The pouches also include crayons for coloring in the pictures that accompany the stories and which were drawn by fellow church member Laura Melcher.
The stories are meant to be read by adults to the children. It is entertaining for everyone, Anderson says. “Adults laugh because the stories are so sweet and funny.”
She adds, “We just trust and pray that God will use this to help children and bring families closer together.”