16-Page Read: Knuffle Bunny

Knuffle Bunny By Mo Willems
Knuffle BunnyWhen we’re young, we’re drawn to one item. One physical piece of matter that keeps us secure. Safe. Comfortable.

For me, it was a Scooby Doo stuffed animal. My parents had spent hell-knows-how-much in securing it during a vacation to King’s Island in Kentucky. It was three feet tall – a life size representation. The carny laughed all the way home, I’m sure. And it was my favorite toy.

I was concerned with every detail of that dog’s existence. I made him my confidant, my best friend. I wore the color off of his collar and pilled up his black spots. Without Scooby, I couldn’t survive. Or so it seemed.

Now, imagine grade school – Irving Elementary. Show and tell day. I brought Scooby Doo to school to show off. He was hard to carry around all day, but when the time came, he was a hit.

In the middle of show and tell, the principal came in and told us to evacuate the building. A gas leak had been suspected, and we were shuffled out onto the playground for an extended recess. It was a glorious day – sunny, warm and free; a day for playing and waiting, two things a grade school child knows best.

But Scooby was still inside.

I freaked out.

I was smart enough to know better. But I had a strange connection with that stuffed animal, and I was worried about what was happening to it. “Gas leak” sounded ominous – like some disfiguring fog that could eat flesh and cause radioactive-like mutations. I imagined my stuffed animal being taken away from me – burned like the Velveteen Rabbit, lost forever. I cried. I couldn’t stop. I knew I was being ridiculous, but I couldn’t help the feeling of helplessness. Over a stuffed animal!

It was a long day at Kindergarten, for both me and my teacher.

That’s why Mo Willems is brilliant. Knuffle Bunny is the story of every child who lost a stuffed animal. And it’s the story of every parent who had to both console and search, simultaneously, as their child’s world came crashing down around them. He makes it all real, because he’s been in the same place. You know he has – he has the parts down pat. Probably on both sides of the coin.

What makes Knuffle Bunny so compelling – so re-readable – is the details. The looks. The images of real New York layered with a scruffy post-yuppie parenthood. A walk to the Laundromat seems so luxurious, a front stoop so spacious. It’s life in a big city with a children’s story filling in the holes, with the freedom of life strewn across every page.

It’s also a classic story of child/adult miscommunication. Trixie’s father assumes Trixie is babbling, not freaking out over a lost stuffed animal. And Trixie’s attempts at clarification fall on deaf ears – that is, until mother saves the day.

This will be me, I’m sure – a father saving the day from his own mistake; a daughter so preoccupied with life that she nearly forgets the one thing her life revolves around. I look forward to it, actually – those hero moments of sheer normalcy, the stories we can share later on.

When I was in the situation, though, it wasn’t a fun story. And I relate with Knuffle Bunny on that level. I was there. We all were. That’s what makes it real. That’s what makes it irresistible. Because each one of us wanted only one thing that day.

We wanted that security back. And it took a hero to get it back – even though we didn’t realize at the time how mundane that hero’s act was.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 13th, 2008