genre: historical fantasy
age range: 8-12 years
Shelley Moore Thomas’s website
In Albie’s strong first-person voice, Thomas narrates the rabbit’s journey through time and space and her attempts to reassemble her family, exploring the cost of action and inaction via an immersive adventure that references Celtic folklore and children’s classics.
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
A spellbinding and heart-racing fairy tale about family, loss, and redemption, wrapped up in magic and mythology.
A strong choice for fantasy readers with enough reading skill to handle many narrative twists and turns.
—School Library Journal
There’s an atmosphere of cryptic connections and the enigmatic forces at play just outside the story’s frame, and questions of loss, destiny, and love expand through the heartwarming tale.
—The Horn Book
Please tell us about your book.
Albie is a rabbit who used to be a girl. When we first meet her on the enchanted (and sinking) island of Hybrasil, she’s in hiding–hiding from the old Magician, who made a secret deal so that she and her sisters (also rabbits who used to be girls) could leave the island and return to their human forms, hiding from the Boy with the boat, who has agreed to ferry their rabbit/girls to their new destinies AND hiding from herself and the horrible guilt she feels about using stolen magic to (accidentally) change herself and her sisters into rabbits in the first place.
But Albie is not one to wallow. No, she is a rabbit with a plan, and her plan is to keep the island from sinking and save the old Magician. He’s all she has left, after all. The Boy, however, has other plans. These involve getting Albie’s little rabbit self into his boat so that he can complete his task—the other rabbit/sisters have already gone to their new destinies. She is the last rabbit, and it is time for her to go.
Across land and sea, (and from time portals beneath the waves to an upside-down version of London), Albie will adventure where no rabbit/girl has gone before.
What inspired you to write this story?
While researching hidden islands for Secrets Of Selkie Bay (my middle grade novel about sisters and selkies), I came upon the story of the mysterious Hy-brasil. Maps from the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries included this island somewhere off the west coast of Ireland. By the 1800’s, it no longer appeared on any maps. It had vanished completely from the geography of the world! However, the legends remain. It is said that Hy-Brasil only appears every seven years, that is it held down by four iron stakes at each corner and when they are removed, the island moves. Some claim that Hy-Brasil is the home of ancient Irish gods, others claim the island is home to monks who preserved the records of an advanced society. But my favorite legend tells the tale of Captain John Nisbet and his crew who reported landing on the island in 1674. There, they met a magician (and several large rabbits), who inhabited a castle.
Also, I wanted to write a story that allowed me to include just about anything I was inspired by—and what better place for unusual things to happen than a disappearing island?
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I tend to reverse-research, which means I begin to write the story first and then research as I go. I am always amazed when I find out things that I have imagined would work perfectly for my story that have an actual presence in either history or folklore. In The Last Rabbit, I thought it might be nice for the story if Albie’s father was a pilot. Sure enough, I was able to uncover that there had indeed been a group of Irish pilots who’d flown in WWII. I also turn to research when I am stuck and don’t know what is going to happen next in the story. I’ll perform some historic or folkloric deep dives for inspiration. Folklore and history never let me down.
What are some special challenges associated with introducing a setting your audience might be unfamiliar with?
As much as I love world building, I find that I am always merely traipsing about behind characters as the story unfolds, acting as a scribe. That means I usually have to go back and fill in more description about the setting so that my readers can see it as clearly as I can. Since I tend to be an underwriter, my revisions consist of adding details rather than cutting sections. Also, even though all my novels are steeped in folklore and fantasy, they are linked closely to events or places in the real world.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
THE LAST RABBIT is a story of family and fate, destiny and regret, and the transformative effects of both guilt and forgiveness. Unexpectedly funny in places and deeply heartfelt in others, THE LAST RABBIT has a classic feel, yet is deeply modern in its belief that a girl has the right to choose her own fate. In a nutshell, this story touches on what it means to be human. As an elementary teacher myself, I have found that one of the greatest gifts of literature is its ability to connect us with our own humanity–and that of others. With the isolation induced by the global pandemic, connection is more important now than ever!