The third picture I received for Photo Inspired Stories was from my amazing niece and nephews, Erik, Ben, and Karen!
The photo is adorable (who doesn’t love a baby bunny?), but when I got it, it scared me. I knew without doubt that I had to write a book for younger readers based off this photo. The problem? I’ve never created a story for an audience younger than teens, mostly because I know just how much that kind of writing is not my forte. I’m not so great at weaving in the necessary moral-to-the-story and, given my propensity to overuse gargantuan words (see what I did there?), making myself use simple sentences with more common words is hard.
As I mentioned before, though, this project is all about stretching for new writing styles and genres, so I had a go at it. When I sat back and read the finished result, I wanted to pretend I had never attempted such a story, and I certainly did not want to put it here for whoever to read. However, that would entirely defeat the purpose of Photo Inspired Stories.
Also, a last note; I found a whole new appreciation for Beatrix Potter and Richard Adams while working through this one.
I’ll stop putting off the inevitable now.
Here’s ‘When the Dandelions Change’:
~~ Smells. So many smells. Where did they all come from? Were they good smells or bad smells? Dangerous, or friendly?
Dewflower stretched her head out so that the very tip of her brown nose poked just beyond the burrow. Her nostrils twitched busily.
The world seemed like a very scary place, and Dewflower wished nothing had to change. She wished she could stay forever in the safe burrows. But Mum had said she could not stay there forever. She had to go out with the other rabbits to enjoy things above ground.
“Today is the day!” came a voice from behind, making Dewflower jump.
She turned her head to see her sister, Flutterkick, hopping up the burrow to sit beside her.
Of the six kits born into Mum’s latest litter, it was Flutterkick who was the most excited about going outside. Dewflower knew she should be excited, too. She did not like that change frightened her so much.
Two days had passed since Mum had let them all out of the stop, a burrow that a doe took for herself to build a nest and have her kits in. The chance to explore the warren and meet the herd had been fun, and Dewflower had hoped her world wouldn’t have to get any bigger. That was not to be, though.
Dewflower used her hind leg to scratch rapidly at an itch under her ear, then she elongated her midsection, stretching out her body and legs in preparation for the upcoming adventure. When that was done, she looked at her sister.
“What do you think it is like out there?” she asked Flutterkick.
“You should go find out for yourself,” a familiar voice said.
“Mum!” The sisters said together, turning to watch their favorite rabbit in the whole warren approach. The other four of their siblings followed closely behind them.
“Is it time, is it time?” Flutterkick hopped circles around her family.
Mum laughed, a warm, rich sound, and nudged her animated kit in the shoulder with her head.
“Yes, it is time to go out. But first, let me hear you all repeat the rules for going beyond the burrows.”
The kits lined up together and in unison recited:
“Always listen with ears, always watch with eyes. When the bad ones come, you will not be surprised. When danger comes, giving warning, do not fail. A thump of the foot, a flash of the tail. Zig to the left, zag to the right. If you get caught, put up a fight.”
“Look at my smart babies!” The pride was clear in Mum’s voice. “Ok, out of the burrow with you!”
With a whoosh, Flutterkick was past them all and out in the world, but Dewflower took her time. Instead of running right out, she took hesitant hops out of the burrow, slowly getting used to the new things around her.
The first thing she noticed was the light. It flooded down on all of them from a large, yellow object in the sky. Mum had called it the sun. The sun, Dewflower decided, was not shy like she was. It made a bold introduction, not just with its intense light, but also through the deep warmth that seeped from it into her brown fur.
After the light and warmth, she took in the colors. The burrow had been a dull greyish-brown, but outside, there were so many hues and shades.
Right outside the warren, the grass had been eaten or trampled away. Further out, though, it spread as far as the eye could see. Flutterkick was already immersed in the blades, munching away at something.
“What is that?” Dewflower went up and asked her.
“Mum says it is clover.”
“Is it good?”
“Very! You should try some.”
Dewflower sniffed at the greens her sister was pulling from the ground, then she took a nibble.
“Well?” Flutterkick asked. “What do you think?”
“Hmmm. It is ok.”
“There are a lot of other things to eat. See if you like something else better.”
Dewflower ventured out further away from the warren in search of a plant that would be particularly good to eat. No matter what she tried, though, she could not find a food that she really enjoyed.
“You look unhappy,” Mum said when Dewflower hopped back toward the warren. “What is wrong?”
“I cannot find anything to eat that I like.”
“Did you try the clover?”
“How about the fresh grasses down by the tree stump?”
“I tried that, too.”
Mum was silent for a moment, then she said, “I think I might know just the thing. Follow me.”
With swiveling ears and watchful eyes to pick up on any danger in the area, Mum led the way down a hill and close to a gently flowing stream. Next to the stream was a large area where lots of yellow flowers grew alongside the grass.
“What are they?” asked Dewflower as she sniffed at one of the flowers. It smelled good.
“Dandelions. Go ahead. Try one.”
Dewflower pulled one of the bright buds from its stem and began chewing it. She could not stop her eyes from growing wide as she ate.
With a loud swallow, she looked at Mum and said, “I love them! They are so much better than the other things I tried!”
After Dewflower had eaten her fill of the dandelions, she laid down in the grass and gave herself a good grooming. She used her teeth to pull out bits of the plants and dirt that clung to her, then she smoothed down her fur with her tongue. She felt full and happy. Even as Mum called the kits back to the warren, Dewflower was already thinking about when she would be able to make a trip to eat dandelions again.
Over the next few days, the kits made many trips outside. Each time they went out, Dewflower would head straight for her favorite flowers and eat her fill. But then one day, something terrible happened. When Dewflower got to the area where the dandelions usually grew, the yellow flowers were nowhere to be seen. New flowers had taken their place, ones with fluffy, white heads.
Timidly, she hopped up to one of them and sniffed it. A piece of the flower broke off and went in her nose. She sneezed, and the white head of the flower dissolved into hundreds of little pieces that floated away in the warm breeze.
Dewflower gave a great wail. It was loud enough to bring Mum quickly to her side.
“What is it?” Mum exclaimed when she got to Dewflower. “Is there danger? Are you hurt?”
“The dandelions!” Dewflower cried. “They are gone!”
“The dandelions?” Mum looked around, then back at her baby. “Goodness, kit! You scared me! I thought something bad had happened.”
“Something bad did happen!”
“Your dandelions did not go anywhere, little one. Those white flowers are the dandelions. They have simply changed their form.”
Dewflower studied the white, puffy heads again, trying to understand what Mum was saying.
“They have changed?” she questioned.
“I do not like change. I do not like it at all. I will never change.”
Mum laughed and said, “Of course you will! And when you change, it will be just as good a thing as when the dandelions change. Each of those white strands you see on the flower are carrying a tiny seed. Pretty soon, something will come along to make those strands fly away. Maybe the wind, or a bird, or the rain.”
“Or a sneeze?”
“Yes, even a sneeze. Those seeds will fly away and land somewhere else. When they do, they will settle into the ground, and new dandelions will bloom for you to eat.”
“Really. The new dandelions will be just as yummy and fresh as the ones you ate before. If the dandelions did not turn white like that, the seeds would never fly away, and soon there would be no more of the flowers anywhere.”
“That would be awful!
“I know. You are changing, too. I remember when you were born. You were so small, and you could not even open your eyes yet. Now, you are so much bigger, and you get stronger every day. Soon, I will not have to look out for you anymore. You will be able to watch out for danger yourself and find your own patches of dandelions. You will even have little kits of your own to take care of.”
“I still think change sounds a little scary.” Dewflower looked around at the big world, and she could not imagine being out in it without having Mum at her side.
“I know it does, but just remember change can be a very good thing. For the dandelions, and for you. Now come along, and we will find you a new patch of flowers. I think I saw some behind the warren.”
As Dewflower followed Mum, she could not help looking back at the changed dandelions one last time. Instead of the white flowers scaring her as they had before, she felt happy instead. Change had seemed like a very bad thing, but now she understood just how important it was.
She raced to Mum’s side and looked up at her.
“You know what?” she said.
“What?” Mum asked.
“I hope that I change to be just like you.”
Mum looked down with loving eyes and nuzzled her kit, then the two continued up the hill together.