February 8, 2012

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale
By Mo Willems; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary. Hyperion 32 pp.
978-0-7868-1870-9 Hardcover $16.99
Fiction Caldecott Honor

Trixie, an exuberant toddler, and her daddy go on an errand, setting the stage for Mo Willems’ tale of how Trixie comes to say her first words. Willems’ narrative style is spare and rhythmic (“Trixie and her daddy went down the block, through the park, past the school and into the Laundromat”), with each new action punctuated by a page turn, allowing the illustrations to draw the reader in and do the emotional heavy lifting. Trixie and her daddy inhabit a sepia-toned, photographic backdrop that both grounds the story in reality (the photos are of a real Brooklyn neighborhood), while allowing the colorful, illustrated people, particularly wide-eyed Trixie and her dad, to pop out from their environment. Trixie is the perfect toddler-figure, roughly two, walking but not quite talking yet, which is where the trouble starts. When Trixie notices that Knuffle Bunny has been left behind, she does her best to tell her daddy (“Aggle flaggle klabble!”). But though her daddy is earnest and well-meaning, he doesn’t understand (“That’s right”, replied her daddy. “We’re going home.”). At this point, Trixie gives up on words and takes action, a turn toddlers will understand. She bawls and goes “boneless” and by the time she and daddy get home, neither of them is happy. Finally, Trixie’s mommy asks where Knuffle Bunny is and the whole family runs back to the Laundromat where daddy triumphantly finds the missing rabbit and becomes the hero, but the climax is yet to come. Reunited with her friend, Trixie hollers “KNUFFLE BUNNY!” her very first word. While marginally a story about loss and reunion, Knuffle Bunny is primarily about learning to communicate, as well as the frustration of being misunderstood, a common experience for the young. Like Trixie, young readers know what happened to Knuffle Bunny - it's made clear in the pictures and endpapers - and like Trixie, they cannot communicate with her daddy and help. In this way, the illustrations perfectly support the concise narrative, with the cartoon drawings simply and artfully depicting worlds of emotion, from frustration to joy, with humor and grace. Parents will recognize themselves in Trixie’s beleaguered daddy, while toddlers, and even older children, will identify with Trixie, a toddler-heroine who has agency, one who knows and understands more than she can possibly articulate. 

No comments: