When Lulu's next-door neighbor doesn't seem to be looking after his rabbit properly, Lulu and her cousin Mellie devise a scheme to make him pay more attention to his pet.
About the Author
Award-winning author Hilary McKay has written many books for children, including Forever Rose and Caddy’s World. She lives in England.
Priscilla Lamont has illustrated numerous books for children, including All Kinds of Kisses and The Princess and the Pea. She lives in England.
Read an Excerpt
Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door
By Hilary McKay, Priscilla Lamont
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2012 Hilary McKay
All rights reserved.
More than Lulu and Mellie Could Bear
All the houses on Lulu's street were very small. "Like Lego houses," said Lulu.
They really did look like toy houses. They had brightly colored doors and flowerpots of flowers and gardens in the back like a row of patchwork squares.
Lulu's house had a green door and a dog's water bowl by the doorstep. Her cousin Mellie, who lived farther down the street, had a yellow door, which she had been allowed to paint herself for a birthday present.
Some people said the street was friendly. Other people said it was nosy. Lulu and Mellie were both friendly and nosy.
At the beginning of summer vacation, when a new family moved into the house next door to Lulu's, they couldn't help watching.
The new family was a father and a mother and a boy. They arrived with a big white van. Lulu and Mellie sat on Lulu's doorstep and watched it being unloaded until Lulu's mother made them come inside.
"It's nice to say hello and be friendly," she told them. "But sitting there staring is too much!"
"We offered to carry things," said Lulu, "but they said no thank you."
"Politely," said Mellie. "They are very polite. And the boy's got an Xbox. We saw it. He carried it in and he didn't come out again."
"He's setting it up," said Lulu. "Let's go and help!"
But Lulu's mother said very firmly that they could not do this either, so they went up to Lulu's room and hung out her window.
That was when they saw that something had appeared in the garden next door.
"A rabbit hutch!" said Lulu, and she hunted out her pirate telescope so she could look at the hutch more closely. "A rabbit hutch with a rabbit in it!" she told Mellie triumphantly.
"Why would he have a rabbit hutch without a rabbit in it?" asked Mellie.
"He might have gotten the hutch and be saving up for the rabbit," said Lulu. "I had my hamster cage for ages before I managed to save up for my hamster."
"How old do you think he is?" asked Mellie.
"Older than us," said Lulu. "Eight?"
"Eight?" exclaimed Mellie. "He's not! He was tiny! Six! Six, polite, interested in animals. What else?"
"He'll come out to see his rabbit soon," said Lulu. "Then we'll find out more."
However, the boy did not come out soon. Lulu and Mellie waited a long, long time before he appeared.
"At last!" said Mellie, yawning. She waved, but the boy didn't wave back.
"Shy!" said Mellie.
The boy walked down the garden carrying a bag. He went to the rabbit hutch. He opened the rabbit hutch door. He lifted out a china bowl and filled it with rabbit food out of the bag. He put the bowl back into the hutch and closed the door. Then he hurried back toward the house.
"There's lovely dandelions in his garden," said Lulu. "I wonder if he's noticed." She called, "Dandelions!" and pointed, but the boy did not look up. He went inside and he did not appear again. Lulu did not have a chance to talk to him until the next day.
"Hello!" she called.
"I'm busy," said the boy and turned his back.
It was difficult to talk to an unfriendly back, but by trying very hard Lulu managed. And she discovered that everything she and Mellie had guessed the day before was wrong. He wasn't six or eight, he was seven like them. He wasn't shy, and he wasn't at all interested in animals. Lulu found that out by saying, "We saw your rabbit yesterday!"
"Oh," said the boy (his name was Arthur) and shrugged.
"Was he all right, moving house? Not muddled up or anything?"
Arthur turned around then and stared at Lulu as if she were crazy.
"I suppose he'll soon get used to it, anyway," said Lulu. "And he'll like exploring a new garden. There's good dandelions in your garden. There's none left in mine."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Arthur.
"Dandelions," said Lulu patiently. "Because I've got two guinea pigs, and they like them just as much as the rabbits. I've got five rabbits. Four who live together because they're friends, and an only rabbit named Thumper who ..."
"You've got five rabbits?" demanded Arthur.
Lulu nodded proudly.
"Why would anyone want five boring rabbits?"
"They're not boring!"
"I've got one. That's enough. Five! What do you do with five rabbits?"
"Lots of things!"
"Do you know what my one does?"
"Why did you get him, then?"
"I didn't. My granddad did for my birthday. I told him exactly the game I wanted for my XBox and he went and got me a boring rabbit! How fair is that?"
"Why did he?" asked Lulu.
"He says XBoxes are garbage, that's why."
"That's 'cause he's old," said Lulu wisely.
"He's not that old," said Arthur. "He still plays football! Anyway, he gave me that rabbit. George. He called it George ..."
"Him, not it!" interrupted Lulu.
"It makes no difference!"
"It does! And why don't you give poor George to someone who does want him?"
"Mom won't let me," said Arthur at once. "She says Granddad would be upset. And you don't need to call him poor George! I look after him. I feed him and I check his water and I clean him out every single week."
That was true. Lulu knew it was true because she and Mellie checked. They could see George's hutch quite clearly from Lulu's bedroom window. With Lulu's telescope they could see George sitting inside.
Day after day.
Week after week.
Twice a day, at breakfast time and dinnertime, Arthur visited George with food and water. Once a week on Saturday mornings, he put him on the ground, scooped all the sawdust out of the hutch into a black trash bag, and put in fresh sawdust. It didn't take long to do this. The whole job was over in just a few minutes.
During those few minutes George became a different rabbit.
A non-sitting rabbit.
He would begin with hops.
Then a stretch.
Then he would begin to run. He ran faster and faster in a racing circle all around the little garden. Sometimes as he ran, he leapt, high into the air. He ran until he had to stop, panting so hard his sides went in and out.
Then Arthur would pick him up and put him back inside his hutch.
To sit there for another week.
It was more than Lulu and Mellie could bear.CHAPTER 2
What Thumper Would Say
Lulu said, "What about kidnapping George?"
"Rabbit-napping," said Mellie.
"Rabbit-napping, then," agreed Lulu.
"Then what?" asked Mellie.
"Rabbit-napping him to my house. And me looking after him."
"But everyone would know he was at your house," objected Mellie.
"Lulu!" said Mellie. "Everyone knows all the animals end up at your house! Your house has animals the way other people's houses have ... have ... cushions!"
That was not quite true, but it was nearly true. A great many animals did end up at Lulu's house. Some of them, like the hamster who lived in Lulu's bedroom, had been bought by Lulu herself, but most of them had just arrived. Rocko, the bouncy young dog, had been a stray from the beach. Green Ginger, the very old parrot, had belonged to a neighbor who moved away. Four of Lulu's rabbits had come from a rescue center, and the fifth, a fat brown rabbit named Thumper, had been sent from his first home in disgrace.
"We bought him to be a house rabbit," his owners had complained.
Thumper had not known that. No one told him the rules for how house rabbits should behave in houses. Snip, snip, snip went his sharp rabbit teeth all in one lively afternoon. They snipped through shoelaces, electric cables, the TV antenna, two laptop chargers, and the telephone line.
"His owners should have been pleased that he wasn't electrocuted!" said Lulu when she heard.
His owners were not pleased. They shut him in the bathroom. Thumper busily dug up a large part of the bathroom floor.
"He is not a house rabbit!" said his disappointed owners. "He is a problem rabbit!" They gave him to Lulu, who gave him twigs to snip instead of cables and earth to dig in instead of bathroom floors. He was still a bit of a problem rabbit, though. The other rabbits would not be friends with him. They chased him away when he thumped over to them to play.
"If I rabbit-napped George, he could be Thumper's friend," said Lulu, but Mellie would not agree. She had a much better idea.
"Better! Braver! More exciting!" she said, bouncing as she spoke. "Arthur keeps poor George in a cage with nothing to do, doesn't he?"
"Yes," agreed Lulu.
"So what we should do is put Arthur in a cage with nothing to do!"
"Then he would see what it's like!"
"Your shed could be the cage! We could take out the guinea pigs because they make it too interesting and Arthur could sleep on those bags of hay. And we could feed him food through the window. Boring food. Very plain sandwiches. Admit my idea is ten million times better than yours!"
But Lulu would not admit this. She said Mellie's idea was ten million times worse. "For one thing," said Lulu, "there isn't a toilet in the shed!"
"Who cares?" said Mellie.
"You can't just say who cares!" said Lulu. "Think about it!"
But Mellie would not think about it. She just kept saying how good her idea was compared to Lulu's. For several days they argued, and all the time George sat in his hutch.
And then something happened.
Arthur knocked on Lulu's door, and he said, "We're going on vacation."
"Oh," said Lulu, and then, to be a little more polite, she added, "That's nice."
"Yes, but there's my rabbit," said Arthur.
"George," said Lulu.
"It can't come."
"He, not it!"
"He," said Arthur.
"That's what I meant. So could you look after it? Him. Him? You know who I mean! George! Could you? It's dead easy. You don't need to bother to clean him out because we're only going away for a week. All you have to do is come by and feed him and check he's got some water."
"That's not how you look after rabbits!" said Lulu.
"Yes, it is," said Arthur, sounding very surprised.
"Well, it's not how I look after rabbits!" said Lulu. "But I will look after George. Not at your house, though. He can have his hutch close to Thumper's and they can make friends."
When Mellie saw George at Lulu's house, she thought Lulu had done rabbit-napping without her and she got very mad and said it wasn't fair.
"No, no, no, listen!" said Lulu.
"George has come on vacation to here because Arthur went on vacation to the seaside."
"Oh!" said Mellie, suddenly understanding. Then she said hopefully, "Perhaps he'll stay there forever!"
"And leave his XBox?" asked Lulu.
"He wouldn't do that," Mellie admitted.
"Unless he took it," said Lulu. "I bet he did! And he'll probably stay in his bedroom XBoxing for the whole vacation and not even see the sea! But who cares! We've got George! Let's get him out of that hutch!"
That was the beginning of a wonderful week for George.
He learned to dig.
He learned his name.
He learned to race a tennis ball.
He made friends with Thumper and they went exploring together.
He found how nice it was to stretch in the sun.
And leave footprints in the dew.
And reach up high to nibble a leaf.
His fur was brushed.
His nails were clipped.
His eyes watched brightly for the next interesting thing to happen.
And then he went home.
Arthur didn't say hello to George when he came to collect him. He didn't ask if he had been happy. He didn't notice how sad Lulu was. He didn't say thank you to her either, but he gave her a box of fudge.
"Thank you," said Lulu.
"My mom bought it, not me," said Arthur.
On the lid of the box it said, A Little Present for Taking Care of my Dog/Cat/Pet. You were supposed to check which one it was, but Arthur hadn't bothered. After that there was a space where you were supposed to write the name of the animal that had been taken care of. Arthur hadn't done that either.
"School on Monday," said Lulu, just for something to say, because she felt so awkward holding the unbothered-with box of fudge and at the same time trying not to cry.
"Yeah," said Arthur.
"You'll be in my class."
"You don't have to take George home right now if you don't want to," said Lulu suddenly. "You can leave him here for as long as you like."
"No thanks," said Arthur, and he picked up one end of George's hutch and began bumping him up the garden path.
George leapt in alarm and Lulu rushed to the hutch and pulled open the door and grabbed him.
"Put him back!" said Arthur indignantly.
"No!" said Lulu, hugging George.
"Put him back now!"
"I'll carry him for you. You bring the hutch. I'll bring George."
"Who do you think you're bossing?"
"I'm not bossing, I'm helping," said Lulu, and she ran ahead with George so that Arthur had to follow whether he liked it or not.
"Thank you for nothing !" said Arthur when he caught up with them both. Then he grabbed back George, pushed him into his hutch, slammed shut the door, and marched inside. He didn't come out again all that day.
Or the next day.
Neither did George.
Lulu and Mellie behaved very badly about the box of fudge. They kicked it around the garden like a football.
"Now we definitely have to kidnap Arthur!" said Mellie, kicking the box of fudge against the shed.
"Now we definitely have to rabbit-nap George!" said Lulu, and she kicked the box against the fence so hard that it burst open. A piece of fudge shot out and just missed Thumper's nose. He jumped in surprise and Lulu and Mellie stopped being angry and became sorry instead.
"Poor Thumper!" said Lulu, sitting beside him and rubbing him in his favorite place to be rubbed, which was just behind his ears. "Help me think what to do, Mellie! Kidnapping won't work. Rabbit-napping won't work. Being mad doesn't work. What will?"
Mellie sat down on the other side of Thumper and ate a piece of squashed fudge while she thought. She said, "I wonder what Thumper would say."
Lulu found herself a square of fudge. She wiped off the mud and ate it slowly. She said, "Thumper will miss George."
"If they had phones, they could talk to each other," said Mellie.
"Or text," said Lulu.
"Or email if they had computers," said Mellie, reaching over Thumper for the fudge that had just missed his nose.
"They could write!" said Lulu.
"They could write," repeated Lulu. "Are you sitting on any more fudge, Thumper? Yes! Good!"
"Thumper and George could write?"
"Thumper could, anyway," said Lulu. "He could write to George. He could send messages over the fence."
"What would he say?"
"He would say ... he would say ... Dear George ..."CHAPTER 3
It took some time for the girls to arrange everything. First they had to make plans. Then there was the fence. It was too high to climb quickly. They had to find flowerpots and boxes to make steps. And of course, they had to go to school as well. But at last:
I hope you are well.
I have had a very busy day. Lulu emptied my hutch and threw everything away. She even threw away my lovely bed. She gave me new hay to make a new bed. She did not help at all. She stuffed all the new hay in a paper bag and I had to unpack it and make another bed all by myself. It took ages and ages and ages.
Your very tired friend, Thumper
P. S. I am sending you a bag of hay so you can see for yourself what hard work it was.
This message appeared on top of George's hutch early one morning, balanced on top of a large bag of hay.
Arthur stared at it.
Then at George.
Then up at Lulu's house to see if anyone was watching.
Then he read the message again.
George scrabbled impatiently at the wire of his hutch.
Arthur did not believe a rabbit would know what to do with a bag of hay. He thought it was a trick.
He checked again to see if anyone was watching, staring suspiciously up at Lulu's window. He listened for the sound of someone in the garden next door.
"No one," he said aloud.
George looked at him. His look asked, How much longer?
Very quickly, as if he was doing something wrong, Arthur opened George's door and pushed the bag of hay inside.
After that, Arthur hurried back indoors, but before he set off for school that morning he checked on George.
George had his head in the bag. He was very busy. He looked like he knew exactly what to do with a bag of hay.
That morning Arthur caught up with Lulu and Mellie as they all went into class together. He said, "I know it's you! I'm not stupid!"
Lulu and Mellie looked at each other. Mellie rolled her eyes. Lulu shrugged. Their looks said, What is the matter with this boy?
Arthur went very red and said crossly, "Rabbits can't write!"
"Parrots can talk," said Lulu helpfully.
"Whales can sing," said Mellie.
"Squirrels can fly," added Lulu. "Some of them, anyway. Tigers can swim."
"So can fish," said Mellie.
Excerpted from Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door by Hilary McKay, Priscilla Lamont. Copyright © 2012 Hilary McKay. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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