Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale

Warning: This Caldecott Honor book may cause obsession among small children. Be prepared to read it aloud many many many times.

Ah... Knuffle Bunny. What a wonderful book. It has a pretty simple premise... a little girl (Trixie) loses her stuffed bunny at the laundromat. Doesn't sound like amazing drama, does it?

That's because you haven't read the book. (Or maybe you have.) Mo Willems manages to turn this basic story into a riveting page turner that children can't wait to read again and again and again (and again).

What makes this book so good? So many reasons. First, it's realistic and easy to relate to (ask any parent who has lost their child's favorite stuffed animal). The sentence structure is fairly simple with only one sentence per page (a crucial element in a book for young children). The pacing is excellent and moments of drama are inserted at just the right times. The writing and illustrations are funny, and both adults and children get the jokes. (Every child or adult I've shown this book to has known exactly what going boneless means). I also love how Willems uses every available space to tell his story... the endpapers, the copyright page and the back cover all advance the plot.

I think the real genius is in the illustrations. Vibrant colorful characters are layered over black and white photographs of Brooklyn, New York. My favorite picture (although it's hard to chose just one) would have to be the one accompanying the words "So Trixie's daddy decided to look harder." I love the look on Trixie's daddy's face as he rolls up his sleeves.

This book was recently turned into a short film by Weston Woods Studios. And the movie is as wonderful as the book... and definitely worth checking out at your local library. The real Trixie (Mo Willems' daughter) narrates it along with her parents. It's a perfect combination of still photography and animation... and stays reverently close to the book. The video won the 2007
Andrew Carnegie Medal. Read the bottom of this post for my son's reaction to the movie (and how I felt about watching it again at the Caldecott/Newbery banquet.)

I attended this year's ALSC awards ceremony (where the Carnegie medal was presented). Mo brought his daughter Trixie up to accept it (to huge applause and lots of exclamations of "she's so cute!") He said in his acceptance speech that the book and video are completely true... except for the parts he made up. He did mention that he doctored the background photos (to remove things like overflowing dumpsters.)

Want more knuffle bunny? (Who doesn't?) Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity is coming out in September 2007. Need your own personal knuffle bunny? Check out Yottoy- where you can also get an irascible plush pigeon. Want more Mo Willems? Check out his website and his funny and creative blog, Mo Willems Doodles.

Note for fans of other Mo Willems books: when Trixie, her mommy and her daddy run through the park... they pass a man wearing a white t-shirt. The pigeon from Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is on the shirt.

Note for pronunciation perfectionists: the title character is pronounced Kuh-nuff-el Bun-ee. The K is not silent because it's a Dutch word.

Read it again?

Update: Check the comments for a few interesting points about the bunny's name.


  1. Susan: There is something that has been bothering me about Knuffle Bunny. I finally got it out of the library a week ago after having been on the waiting list for about a month. I thought it was cute, but I didn't understand how the mom knew that the toy was named Knuffle Bunny. It sounds like the kind of name that a child would bestow herself on a toy---but Trixie doesn't say the words "Knuffle Bunny" until after they rescue it from the laundry. Yet her mom asks about it by name before this point. Any answers? Did Mo and his wife name Knuffle Bunny? And if so, why? It's an odd name for a parent to pick for a child's stuffed animal.

  2. Jody- that's an excellent question. In all the times I've read the book, I never thought about that. As far as I know (and I could be wrong about this) Knuffle Bunny is the name of the real Trixie's stuffed rabbit. I'm not sure who named the bunny, though. I always thought of it as a homage to the real Trixie.

  3. What I'll add - being a Mo fan - is that the word Knuffle is based on a Dutch term - Mo's family being Dutch - for something cute and cuddly. So I suppose the parents could have named the bunny as Knuffle Bunny. But you're right, it makes more sense in the book that it would have been the name the child gave the bunny.

    Jody, you may have stumbled on one of the great picture book plot holes of the twenty-first century!

  4. Mother Reader- I didn't know that knuffle meant cute and cuddly in Dutch. Very fitting.

    I just changed German in my original review to Dutch. Thanks for the heads up. I could have sworn Mo said German but it was a very rushed 30 seconds as he signed Edwina for me.

  5. Wow, I'm kind of surprised that no one else thought about this, since I was totally fixated on it after reading it, to the point that it kind of ruined the authenticity of the story for me ("Wait, if the kid named the bunny, then how did they know the name if she never said it before the event at the end of the book?!?")

  6. Jody- I think you noticed it because you brought a fresh perspective to the book. I've read it SO many times that I've stopped thinking about the plot. I'm really glad you pointed it out, though. Now it's going to bug me!