Courtney Lynn Michaels' close connection to rabbits began back in the 1990s, when on one very snowy night on Highway 144, she unfortunately hit a wild rabbit with her car.
A few weeks later, she was in the pet store picking up some seeds for her pet canary, and she saw a bunny there. Feeling bad about the wild rabbit that had died, she ended up adopting the bunny and bringing him home.
That bunny became the first in a line of pet rabbits named Stewart who have been companions to Michaels.
“I was living in an old farmhouse at the time, in the country,” Michaels said. “I was looking out the window one day, and there was a chickadee, and my little bunny was running around the house. He came up to me and stood next to me. He got up on his hind legs. It was like he was having this little conversation with a chickadee outside of the window.”
That little incident inspired Michaels to write a verse imagining a conversation between the two creatures, and then expand the idea into four stories.
This eventually led to a project that’s nearly three decades in the making.
Working with Mission Studios in Sudbury, Michaels has professionally written and recorded 20 original stories and 20 songs about a young rabbit named Stewart.
She worked with local sound engineer and producer Shawn Pitzel on the project. Pitzel also lends his musical talents to the project, along with Don Reed and Shawn Perras.
The stories and songs, which are available as MP3 audio downloads, follow a year in the life of a rabbit and are set back in history, to gentler times.
Michaels explains that in the 1990s, she was a student at Laurentian University, and took a children’s literature course by Laurence Steven, a now-retired LU English professor who also ran a publishing company for many years.
She asked him to take a look at her Stewart the bunny stories, and he wrote her a letter saying she was a born storyteller, even offering to publish her work.
However, Michaels said she was more interested in turning the stories into an audio project.
“But I was so delighted with his letter, because he said ‘You need to do something with this,’” she said.
Michaels launched her Stewart the bunny audio project back in the mid-90s, and ended up putting out several cassettes.
She continued to work on the project over the years, and has changed formats as new technologies have come into use, launching a Stewart and Friends website with the MP3 audio downloads this past November.
While stories about forest creatures might bring to mind Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, Michaels, who said she didn’t grow up reading Potter’s work, said her work is distinct.
“Peter Rabbit is naughty,” she said. “Stewart is very curious. He's a very good little rabbit. But he does get into mischief not on his own, but just because things happen.”
Michaels’ website provides the following description of Stewart the bunny: “Stewart is a playful, charming, cute, kind, polite and inquisitive little rabbit. Though well-educated, he is far from conceited or egotistical. He feels shy about his accomplishments. His motto is, ‘If you can't do something really well, at least do it with great enthusiasm!’”
As a lover of antiques and history, Michaels wanted to make her stories have the feel of a 1920s or 1930s radio program. She said the stories can be enjoyed by the entire family.
“Writers write about what they know,” Michaels said. “Because this is what my world has been years, Stewart types out on an old Underwood typewriter, he uses a candlestick telephone as he's dialing,” complete with the sound effects.
“So there's a lot of really funny little details within everything that children wouldn't understand,” she said. “But children will have a lot of questions, because Stewart attends a one room schoolhouse. There's all of those things that don't have questions and might be asking their parents or certainly their grandparents.”
If you’re interested in checking out Michaels’ project, a few samples of her stories and songs are available to stream for free on her website’s main landing page.
Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.