At first glance, Mo Willems’s Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale didn’t impress me much. The illustrations were sort of chunky, and the story was simple. In fact, I felt like it was a distant echo of the Corduroy books, which were my favorites as a child. In both books, the title characters lose their beloved stuffed animals in a Laundromat, and while Knuffle Bunny is found quickly, Corduroy has an adventure of his own before his beloved owner locates him. To me, it was a much richer, classic story, and Willems’s tale wasn’t that amazing in comparison.
However, all of that changed once I read the story aloud with my daughter. She GOT this book. She loved Knuffle Bunny, sure, and she didn’t want him to be stuck in the laundry; but what she really got, I think, was the little girl Trixie, with her bald head and overalls. In fact, this might have been the first book we’ve read in which the protagonist is female and actually looks like my daughter. She even mistakenly called Trixie “he” once, having been used to seeing characters like that be male. It’s no wonder that when she plays—anything from knights to Vikings to animal rescuers—she often chooses male roles to play, since those are the ones she identifies with in our books!
She also enjoyed the sense of place in Willems’s book. The illustrations—which she found to be fun—were placed over actual photos of city blocks, which my daughter took extra time to pore over earlier today when we read the book together. She felt like she wanted to visit this area—or, perhaps, that she had visited it when going to visit friends in the city, or perhaps the Laundromat that her great-grandfather operates.
The last thing about the book that my little girl enjoyed was the way Trixie talked. Her baby talk was adorable, even as she cried—and the emotions on the characters’ faces were so apparent that she felt sorrow and anger along with them, respectively. After I said the garbled words, my daughter repeated them and laughed—then demanded to know why she talked that way! “She’s just a baby,” I said. “She can toddle along and walk with her daddy but she can’t talk yet.”
Yet she could surely express her feelings—and her mother knew exactly why, which also won me over by the end of the book. Any book that connects that mother-baby bond so quickly and effortlessly is a good one!