Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mo Willems

Willems, Mo. 2004. Knuffle Bunny. New York: Hyperion Books. ISBN 0786818700

Plot Summary
The protagonist, a toddler named Trixie, goes on a field trip with her dad to the laundromat. Upon her return, she realizes that she has misplaced her prize possession, Knuffle Bunny. She tries to explain this to her clueless father ("before she could even speak words"). When they return home (after much crying), Trixie's mother immediately asks "Where's Knuffle Bunny?" The dad finally understands the reason for Trixie's tantrums. The family rushes back to the laundromat to retrieve the prized possession and Trixie exclaims, "Knuffle Bunny!" which becomes the first understandable words she speaks.

Critical Analysis
This "cautionary tale" was delightful and easy to read. Upon a first reading, the audience does not know why Trixie is so upset after leaving the laundromat. When the reader learns that Knuffle Bunny is missing, the suspense heightens. "What is a Knuffle Bunny? Where is it? Why is Trixie so upset?" are questions the reader asks. When the dad can't find it immediately, the reader can infer that the perhaps Knuffle Bunny is with the clothes in the washer.

When you open this book, the inside cover shows a repeated pattern of an animal inside a circle. After reading the book (and seeing the same pattern on the inside back cover), the reader knows that this circle is a washer door and Knuffle Bunny is inside.

As both writer and illustrator, Mo Willems begins immediately with a progression of family "photos" showing the parents getting married, having Trixie and then outside their home. These pictures are a combination photo and drawing superimposed upon the photo. This technique is done throughout the book. I think it makes the characters pop out to the reader (the photos are sepia and the characters are full color). Combining the photo and drawing also gives the unexpected to the reader. The pictures make the story look real (which reinforces the text). Willems also includes small details that fans will enjoy (one page has a character wearing a shirt that has Pigeon on it, and it looks like Pigeon is watching the family run by, too).

The action of the story is mimicked by where the words appear on the page. At the beginning of the story, the reader almost skips down the path that Trixie and her dad are on as they turn the page. When the rising action occurs, there are more words and pictures on a page. The reader zooms down the path back to the laundromat with the family, and we are looking and looking and looking for Knuffle Bunny as well.

There are no page numbers to distract the reader in this book. The vocabulary is accessible to younger readers, but is not watered down. I really liked how Willems described Trixie going "boneless" and the picture shows a contorted body. People who deal with young children can understand that moment.

This is a great book to read out loud. My four year old was excited to read about Trixie and wanted to read it several times this week. She even began "reading" the story herself because the text was simple but memorable. I noticed after a few reads that Knuffle Bunny was in the washer when Trixie got to put the money in the machine. I didn't notice that on the first read.

Review Excerpts
BOOKLIST (starred review):"Readers of all ages will recognize the agonizing frustration of a little girl who knows far more than she can articulate."
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL (starred review): "A seamless and supremely satisfying presentation of art and text."

*Talk about what happens when you lose something important.
*Discuss ways to communicate when the language is a barrier.

To continue Trixie's and Knuffle Bunny's tale, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity ISBN 1423102991
Other books by Mo Willems: The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! ISBN 0786852488
Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! ISBN 0786837462

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