I didn’t discover Mo Willems via his famous Pigeon books. My first encounter with his work was the first Knuffle Bunny book, Knuffle Bunny: a Cautionary Tale , and was bowled over by the fantastically imaginative use of pastel coloured illustrations superimposed with sepia photographs of Brooklyn. The result is so drastically effective and beautiful that I soon looked out for more of WiIllems’ work. But still the Knuffle Bunny books remain my favourites of his.
In Knuffle Bunny; A Cautionary Tale, young toddler Trixie goes to the laundrette with her daddy and inadvertently adds Knuffle Bunny to the washing load. She tries to let her dad, who inexplicably does not understand the very clear “AGGLE FLAGGLE KLABBLE”, know, but as soon as they get home, Mum knows what is wrong.
In Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, Trixie now goes to school and is very excited to bring her beloved Knuffle Bunny to show. But once they get there, she realises that Knuffle Bunny is not, after all, one of a kind and Sonia has brought her own to. After a hilarious dispute on name pronunciation and much bickering, the bunnies are confiscated until the end of the school day. When they are returned, they do not initially go back to their rightful owners.
In Knuffle Bunny Free: an Unexpected Diversion, Trixie and her parents are off on holiday to Holland to visit Oma and Opa. Trixie is very excited about the trip, so excited that she leaves Knuffle Bunny in the plane. When they realise, the beloved toy is already half way to China. Trixie makes her peace with her loss until an unexpected reunion, and an ever more unexpected decision from Trixie.
Their originality of these books do not only lie in the artwork; the books together can be considered as sequence rather than a series, and in picture books this is rather rare. The three books in the sequence follow little Trixie as she grows from toddler to grown-up at the very end of the last book. Each story follows a very similar narrative pattern: Trixie goes on a journey, may it be to the laundrette, preschool or Europe. Each journey brings with it a challenge, involving the disappearance of Knuffle Bunny, but with each resolution, comes the feeling that Trixie has matured a little. Even the book covers convey the idea of similar pattern; the scene it depicts is exactly the same in all three covers but with a slightly more grown-up Trixie each time.
One of the most hilarious and clever parallels is the way Willems has recreated the same scene in each book, the scene being when it finally dawns on Trixie that Knuffle Bunny is missing:
Of course the stories work on several levels and while young audiences will delight in Trixie’s adventures, parents will be able to relate to many of the situations dealt with, from Trixie going “boneless” in the first story to the dreaded feeling of your child’s favourite cuddly toy suddenly missing. I dare any parent not to feel chocked at the end of the third volume as the readers witness a grown-up Trixie finally letting go of Knuffle Bunny and in doing so, letting go of the little girl she was once was. The last scene, an epilogue entitled “A Note to Trixie”, which ich propulses us several years alter when Trixie is herself a mother, has me welling up every time. It just “talks” to a part of us as parents, about the love for our children, about our hopes for their future.
I would wholeheartedly recommend that every household should have a copy of these three books. They would even make a lovely present for a family welcoming a new baby into the world. It might be a shock to them to see the potential challenges that await them, but I think the overwhelming feeling of Trixie’s parents love for her will shine through.
Need I really say that of course, the Knuffle Bunny Books are:
Many thanks to Walker Books for providing a review copy of “Knuffle Bunny Free: an Unexpected Diversion”.
All illustrations © Mo Willems