Just to get things started, I’m going to go ahead and post a few of my old reviews that I did during library school for assignments. They are unnecessarily wordy and formal, but they cover everything from the text to the illustrations, so they may still be useful to someone! I’ll post this one about Knuffle Bunny first since I’ve read it aloud to GirlChild and can tell about how she interacts with it!
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems
(2004, Hyperion Books for Children, ISBN 0-7868-1870-0)
Trixie is a typical little girl who loves her stuffed bunny, and the book takes place “not so long ago, before she could even speak words.” One day, when she and her daddy go on an errand, Trixie experiences a tragedy with which many young children will identify: her bunny goes missing. In the end, Trixie’s tragedy is averted and she speaks her first words: Knuffle Bunny.
Children will easily identify with the young heroine, as many a child has misplaced a favorite toy and suffered terribly for the duration. Trixie’s attachment to Knuffle Bunny is familiar in its ferocity as this situation is standard to most childhoods. How many quirkily named stuffed animals have taken an unexpected or unappreciated trip to the washing machine? Even as adults, we can remember the trauma of seeing our “friends” submerged in suds or, even worse, having had our parents sneak the beloved toy away for washing! When we see Trixie and her daddy walking away from the machine with Knuffle Bunny’s blank eyes peeking out, we adults immediately anticipate the tantrum that is to follow and feel like calling out, “Wait!” In fact, many adults will see themselves in the positions of Trixie’s parents, moving swiftly from frustrated to frantic as the truth of the situation reveals itself. What parent hasn’t tried desperately to soothe a child whose needs or wants were unclear, only to discover suddenly, and quite by accident, what the problem was all along? The dawning realization hits us like it hits Trixie’s father: the world simultaneously stops and shatters, and we see what the big deal was all along. While every parent hopes to hear the words “mama” or “dada” first, isn’t it too often another word that seems to put the child’s true love into perspective?
The visual presentation of this book is unusual and accessible on many levels. The font is large and reminiscent of a kindergarten teacher’s practiced hand. The text often spreads several pages, and there is just enough per page to maintain interest while reading aloud. In addition, as a way to imply mood and movement, the placement of the text and illustrations change throughout the story, and the size of the font varies from page to page or scene to scene. For the very young, the clear, two-dimensional characters make a simple, eye-catching focus in the foreground. For older readers, the real-life, sepia-toned background photographs will provide many opportunities for visual exploration, and the subtleties of the drawings create the chance to notice something new each time the book is read—which it will be, over and over! Knuffle Bunny is a book in which children and adults both will see themselves, which will, in turn, help carry parents through the many readings their children will demand.
GirlChild’s reactions: GirlChild loves to ask questions now about the backgrounds and the characters and where they are and what they’re doing and how they’re feeling all throughout the book. She has always loved the overly dramatic wailing her daddy and I do when we read about Trixie’s temper tantrum, and she likes to do the “snurp” herself. She seems to have learned from this book a good deal about reading facial expressions and body language to express her own and understand other people’s feelings, and she still often proclaims, “Look! I’m sad! I have a tear!”–just like Trixie!–when she wants us to know how truly heartbroken she is about something.
This was written back when I was expecting GirlChild, so, of course, her reactions aren’t from when the review was written but are more recent. However, I was right in thinking this one would make a great read-aloud and that little ones would love it! This is a perfect book for any child who has a favorite lovey, and I would recommend it for the toddler and preschool crowds in particular. There’s also a story DVD called Knuffle Bunny… and More Great Childhood Adventure Stories (2007, Scholastic Storybook Treasures) with a version of the book that the author, Mo Willems, and his daughter, the real Trixie, narrate. Mo Willems–a former writer and animator for Sesame Street–has written quite a few other fun books for young kids including Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, and the Cat the Cat series.