Bridging the Atlantic Book Divide: The Knuffle Bunny Books, by Mo Willems

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2004); Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity (2007); Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion (2010)

The first in this series! (see Intro) It feels weird to review books by Mo Willems – he’s so well known here.  But we hadn’t heard of him when we lived in the UK, and so I will write about his books –  many times. He has written huge numbers of delightful books; funny, poignant, sometimes both. I hope he’s getting better known in the UK – here is my small contribution to that! If you want more on this genius, see his own website, and I like this Washington Post article from 2012 , but there’s lots out there.

The three Knuffle Bunny books (there is a delicious argument over the pronunciation – Nuffle or Kuh-nuffle in book two) are a window into life with a child, and a source of joy touched with sorrow. These are deeply felt books, capturing a moment in life that passes. Overall they tell the story of Trixie and her relationship with her special stuffed animal/lovie/stuffie, Knuffle Bunny – a sort of rag-bunny-doll – as she grows up. However, that doesn’t do justice to how funny and recognisable they are.  Our kids loved the dialogue and very quickly were ‘in’ on it with Trixie and her pre-verbal frustration with her daddy in the first book. And the second book moves seemlessly from a school day and typical routine to a gorgeously melodramatic dash across the city – as noir-ish as a book for pre-schoolers can get.  It is note perfect and so fun to read my six year old wants to take all the best lines.

While Trixie is at the centre of the story, my heart is with her daddy – trying, trying, trying. The parents’ faces are endlessly expressive – yes, we say to ourselves, that’s it, that’s how I feel. The illustrations, all by Mo Willems, are a distinctive mix of photographs overlaid with drawings.

Our daughter insisted on these every day and every night for weeks, so I can say with confidence that they do not diminish with repetition. My affection for them has grown with every re-read. If I had to rank them I would say my favourite is the second, Knuffle Bunny Too, and my least favourite, although it’s a fitting ending is the third, Knuffle Bunny Free. (The first two won Caldecott Honors in 2005 and 2008 respectively.) All are endlessly quotable, even by the youngest in the family: blaggle plabble!

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