The Rabbit Problem

Written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
Published by Two Hoots (Pan Macmillan)

Problem-solving fun and games with a rabbit family that won't stop growing

Who's it for?

Reading for Pleasure

Sharing at storytime or reading independently  6-11 years

Active Reading: where will this book take you? 

Sharing and exploring through creative cross-curricular activities  8-11 years

Adapt our activities to suit your children’s interests and abilities

About this book

There aren’t many picturebooks inspired by maths, and even fewer that can hold their own in any company. Emily Gravett starts with a traditional mathematical puzzle and lets it take her somewhere entirely new in The Rabbit Problem, a charmingly eccentric modern classic that pleases children and their adults.

Picture a pair of rabbits in a field. Every month they give birth to two baby rabbits, and once these babies are two months old they produce babies of their own. If no rabbit is ever allowed to leave the field, how many rabbits will there be in six months? Eighteen months? Three years? Is it possible to predict the number of rabbits there will be in any given month?

"Join me, Lonely Rabbit, in the field, to be my friend.... please?"

First explored by a mathematician called Fibonacci who lived in medieval Italy, the numbers generated by this problem are also found in growth patterns seen in the natural world. The relationship between these numbers has been a popular focus for maths investigations in the classroom for many years, but has rarely inspired cross-curricular interest - until a radio programme caught Emily Gravett's attention, and she found herself considering the rabbits' plight. Confined to their field in ever increasing numbers, what would they eat? How would they manage? Would they ever escape?

As she considered these questions, Emily found herself creating an illustrated calendar charting the rabbits' monthly progress, and Lonely and Chalk and their boisterous brood were born.

It's August, and the rabbits are harvesting their carrots        artwork ©Emily Gravett for Macmillan

In a satisfying play on the original mathematical challenge, each spread addresses a new problem encountered by the rabbits in the field, and every challenge requires them to come up with a creative - and highly original - response. Whether they’re trying to keep warm, dealing with bored teenagers or cooking up a storm with a glut of carrots, Emily’s rabbits are busy, gregarious and inventive. Almost (but not quite) overwhelmed by new arrivals, they negotiate their way through an entire year of family living in the field  - until December arrives, when all 288 of them explode from the book in a pop-up surprise that’s guaranteed to delight everyone, from mathematicians to the numerically-challenged alike.

“I wanted to show that behind the nice, neat numbers lay a more humane  - or even rabbitine – story,”

Emily’s charming (and very funny) pictures invite lots of discussion: about maths, and cooking, and why teenagers get bored, and there are plenty of ongoing jokes that younger children will enjoy. But there are lots of clever extras, too, including newspapers and ration books that extend the themes and give older children plenty to explore and enjoy, and cross-curricular learning activities suggest themselves on every page.

Sharing and talking about this book

Invite children to talk about their families, and the tasks that must be done to keep everybody well and happy.

Who lives with you? Where do you live? Do you have family members living elsewhere? What do you like about living with people of different ages? What are the challenges of family life? What do you do to help out?

July's 'bored rabbit problem'      artwork ©Emily Gravett for Macmillan 


Look at the illustration for July and talk about it. 

What does this picture show? How do these rabbits feel? How can you tell? Do you think they’re related? How? What would it be like to share this field with them?

TIP: if you’re working with a large group, you might want to use a visualiser to project the page onto a screen, or adult helpers could have extra copies of the book. 

Draw children’s attention to the signs. Explain that there was only one pair of rabbits to begin with, but things changed.

What do you think will happen as time goes on?  

Introduce the whole book to your class by guiding them through the book’s structure and introducing the basic story. Leave plenty of time for questions and discussion, and plan for repeated sessions plus independent exploration so that everyone can become familiar with all the details. 

What next? Activities...

By applying the same rules each time (rabbits become parents aged two months; no rabbits may leave the field) can you discover how many rabbits there are in the field in any given month?

Working in small groups or pairs, explore the numbers through drawings, diagrams or by using toys or counters. TIP: encourage children to think about adult rabbits and juvenile rabbits as separate groups, as this will help them work out which rabbits are having babies each month, and which are not. 

Record your results on a table showing the number of the month in the first column, the total number of rabbits in the field in the second column, and the number of pairs of rabbits in the third column. 

For example:

Month How many rabbits are there in the field? How many PAIRS of rabbits are there in the field?
1 1 -
2 2 1
3 4 2
4 6 3
5 10 5
6 16 8
7 26 13
8 42 21
9 68 34
10 110 55
11 178 89
12 288 144


Look at the columns showing the number of rabbits, and the number of pairs of rabbits. Can children spot any relationships between these numbers? TIP: You could describe this as looking for patterns in the numbers. 

For example:

You make the number in the third column by halving the number next to it in the second column, and you get the number in the second column by doubling the number in the third column. 

Or, more briefly:

Every number in the third column is half the corresponding number in the second column…

Children may understand the concept of pairs and halving/doubling numbers as they move between columns, but being able to express the idea in clear, precise language is always challenging!

The final pop-up spread!    

Look at Column 3, showing the number of pairs of rabbits. What patterns (or relationships) can you spot within this number sequence? (ie without looking at the other columns)

Each number in this column is formed by adding the two previous numbers. 

NOTE: this is a rule – it works for every number in the sequence.

Can children continue the sequence by applying the same rule? 

How far do you get before the numbers become too big to manage?


Taking this further

If you’d like to read about Fibonacci’s formula, or explore it mathematically with older children, you’ll find plenty of information online.

Fibonacci Numbers occur frequently in nature, eg in the way flower petals grow, or spirals form. Find out more HERE  

Discover more ideas for investigating the Fibonacci Sequence HERE  

To extend your exploration and discovery, why not make a class collection of maths puzzles and their solutions and create a display or book?


Have fun exploring the rabbit-themed activities in this book...

  • Try the rabbit exercises and invent more of your own.
  • Hunt for locations of edible foodstuffs, taking notes in a specially-made ration book. (Grass on the field? Packed lunches in the cloakroom/fridge? Biscuits in the staffroom/larder?)
  • Grow different varieties of lettuce and compare their taste.
  • Design and build a rabbit shelter from recycled bits and pieces. Write reports about what you did, including photographs showing the different stages of construction.
  • Research and compile a book of rabbit names, with advice for new rabbit parents.
  • Learn how to knit, and make something for a rabbit. A scarf, perhaps?
  • Write and publish your own rabbit newspaper.
  • Keep a temperature record for a month, marking each day’s reading on a thermometer like Emily’s!
  • Try the rabbits’ carrot recipes. Cook something good with carrots!

Observe rabbits in an animal corner or farm park – or in the wild, if you have them nearby. Sketch them and make notes about their behaviour. What else can you find out about these animals? 

Can you write and present a mock television documentary?

Chalk and Lonely in Fibonacci's Field       artwork ©Emily Gravett

Lots of maths ideas are explored in this book. How many can you find? How have they been incorporated into the story or pictures? Forexample: number sequences, weight, length/depth, addition, units of measurement, temperature, tallying, bar graphs, line graphs, ordinal numbers, dates and times

The calendar page for April includes a water-level measurer 
Look at some problems in a maths textbook. What stories do they tell? 

Choose one of these problems and turn it into an illustrated story.

Challenge children to make up stories about a year in the life of an imaginary character.

Think about ways these stories could be shown on a calendar, then use print-outs or real calendars to create your books. Include special items like invitations, letters in envelopes, tiny books and other extras if you can.

The rabbits' ration book     artwork ©Emily Gravett

What are the names of the rabbits in the first family to occupy the field? Check out the baby book to find out – the parents are called Chalk and Lonely, and their first two babies are Angora and Alfalfa. Are any other rabbits given names?

Some are mentioned in The Fibber newspaper!

Choose a baby rabbit shown in one of the later illustrations and fill in a blank copy of the Bunny’s First Month record book on its behalf.

What does your baby rabbit like to eat and do? Who are his/her friends?

Draw a portrait of your baby rabbit and write about him/her. What would your baby rabbit like to do when she/he grows up?

Put children in small groups, allocate one illustration to each group and ask them to talk about it. 

Assign different rabbit roles to children, choosing characters with different perspectives on the situation: for example, a parent, a teenager and playful baby. What are these characters thinking and feeling? What might they be about to say or do? Use mind-mapping and other notemaking techniques to capture your ideas, then have a go at sitting and moving like these rabbits. How will your particular rabbit character move and behave?

Ask groups to recreate their illustration in-role as a freezeframe. Take photos of each group!

On a given signal, ask groups to bring their scenes to life. What will happen? What will everybody say?

Invite each group to perform, then follow up by writing and illustrating playscripts for each scene.

If you liked this, try...

A selection of books written and illustrated by Emily Gravett

Meerkat Mail


Little Mouse's Book of Fears

Books about numbers

How Many Mice Make an Elephant?
by Tracey Turner and Aaron Cushley, published by Kingfisher

How Many Jelly Beans? A Giant Book of Giant Numbers by Andrea Menotti and Yancey Labatt, published by Chronicle Books

365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental and Joelle Jolivet, published by Abrams

One is a Snail, Ten is a Crab by April Pulley-Sayre, Jeffrey Sayre and Randy Cecil, published by Walker

All Sorts by Pippa Goodheart and Emily Rand, published by Flying Eye Books

Find out more about Emily Gravett on her website HERE

This article first appeared in Teach Primary Magazine but has been edited and updated for Cast of Thousands with additional activities. You can read the original article on HERE 

Also featured on Cast of Thousands...

Copyright: Cast of Thousands 2024 All rights reserved.
This article/information may be printed freely for use in schools and other learning settings but may not be reproduced in any other format without the permission of Cast of Thousands


Sign In to Comment On This Book

Get updates and news from Cast Of Thousands direct to your inbox