by Richard Adams
A group of rabbits from a large warren decide to strike out on their own after Fiver, a rabbit with visions of the future, sees a terrible event at their home. Hazel, the de facto leader (the Chief Rabbit of the renegade group), guides the other rabbits miles and miles, dodging all kinds of danger, including badgers, rivers, and a strange warren they consider joining. Eventually they find an ideal location for a new warren at Watership Down, but soon realize that since they brought no does along from their old warren, that they cannot flourish without finding some female rabbits. Hazel and his rabbits embark on an expedition to find some does from a nearby warren, but end up causing all-out war with the Efafran warren’s crazed Chief, General Woundwort.
Lessons from Watership Down:
- Be nice to everyone. Hazel makes a point to befriend other animals, such as a mouse and the big white seabird, even when rabbits usually stay to themselves. In both cases, Hazel’s being friendly and helpful (actually saving the lives of both a mouse and a bird) ends up saving all the rabbits in Watership Down on various occasions. Hazel understood the value of working together, even with those different than himself.
- A true leader leads with humility and respect for others. As evidenced by the parallel between General Woundwort and Hazel, a true leader puts the needs of his people (or in this case, rabbits) above his own and does not make decisions out of vanity or selfish ambition. Hazel literally puts his own life on the line on multiple occasions for the benefit of his warren; General Woundwort truly thinks only of himself and his reputation. Furthermore, Hazel is the chief rabbit of the Watership Down warren because the other rabbits made him so, not because he forced his way to the top.
I’m kind of sad that I waited this long to read this book! While it did take a while to get into, I could barely put it down after I reached the middle. The relationships are real, the struggles are scary, and oddly enough, it’s fairly believable. I would love to teach this novel in a junior high or early high school setting; it would make for great summer reading (if you could make sure the kids would actually read it!).
My Rating: A+
- universal truths and themes
- sympathetic characters
- excellent writing
Clean Factor: A+
- great for a classroom setting, possibly even a family read-aloud
- fairly long, but it does provide many talking points, so it would work for a book club as well