Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results (#10)
#10: Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems (2004)
93 points (18 votes, #5, #3, #2, #9, #5, #2, #6, #6, #9, #6, #8, #7, #5, #3, #9, #1, #8, #2)
Never mind figuring out the top 10 picture books…how do you choose a favorite Mo Willems title? Ends up it wasn’t that hard…no offense, Pigeon. Knuffle Bunny’s contrast of the cartoony characters over the scenic grayscale photography is best described as very, very right. (As a side note, I get to feel like I’ve practically included A Pocket for Corduroy, a bear toward whom I have strong sentiments but weak literary convictions.) Amy Graves
It’s a mixed-media extravaganza! It’s a poignant coming-of-age story! It’s set in one of my favorite neighborhoods in the whole world! And it has the very best busted-dad look EVER—Mo Willems can show more human emotion with fewer penstrokes than you’d even think possible. Not to mention the immortal phrase “Aggle flabble klabble!” – Els Kushner
Recently I asked my readers to try and predict which books would make it into the Top 10 of the 100 Best Picture Books Poll. By and large the bulk of them got a lot of the classics right, but there were certain titles they weren’t quite sure about. Knuffle Bunny, for example. Would it actually garner enough support to make it this high on the list or would it split the vote with other Willems titles? As one reader wrote, "I’d also put a small amount on Knuffle Bunny as a dark-horse candidate. It would be the second book by one author in the top 10, and a relatively new author at that, but Mo Willems is just that good." Yah. He is.
The plot from my old review reads, "Trixie and her pop are off to the local neighborhood Laundromat one bright and sunny day. They get there, load the clothes, and take off for home when little Trixie comes to an awful realization. Knuffle Bunny, her beloved favorite toy, is missing. Unfortunately for her, she has not yet learned to talk. After some valiant tries (my favorite being the single tearful ‘snurp’) she feels she has no alternative but to burst into a full-blown tantrum. This doesn’t make her father any happier and since he hasn’t realized what the problem is, he takes her home as she kicks and screams. Once home, however, her mother quickly asks, ‘Where’s Knuffle Bunny’? Back runs the whole family to the Laundromat where, at long last, the beloved bunny is recovered and Trixie says her first real words."
A glance at the 2004 publication date and I see instantly that none of my reference books are going to do me a dollop of good when talking about this title. We’re talking about a book that came out a mere five years ago, and yet has already staked its claim on the Top 10 of the Top 100 list. It’s really that good.
Mo spoke at a SCBWI conference in the Pacific Northwest about a year or two ago. At the time he discussed the fact that Knuffle Bunny was the first Caldecott Honor winner to contain photography in any way, shape, or form. He’s been asked since then why he made such a "bold" choice. The fact of the matter, though, is that he saw it as a time saver. Of course, once he got into it he didn’t realize the amount of soul-sucking time it would take to resize the character so that they’d be proportional within their photographic environment
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a fun activity. Go to YouTube and type in "Knuffle Bunny". The results yield parent after parent after parent reading the books to their children. My favorite of all these, however, has to be this video of a two and a half year old who has memorized the title by heart.
Speaking of videos, I do not much care to link to Amazon unless I have no other choice. But really, if you want to see the Carnegie Award winning Weston Woods video of Knuffle Bunny, there’s no better place to watch it than here. Read, as it happens, by Mo and the real Trixie.
Live action more your style? Better buy your tickets now for the 2010 musical based on this book then. It will be playing at the Kennedy Center.
Said Horn Book, “There’s plenty here for kids to embrace. There are playful illustrations and a simple, satisfying story. This everyday drama will immediately register with even pre-verbal listeners.”
Kirkus and its starred review said of it, "Anguish begets language in this tale of a toddler’s lost stuffie . . . The natural audience for this offering is a little older than its main character: they will easily identify with Trixie’s grief and at the same time feel superior to her hapless parent-and rejoice wholeheartedly at the happy reunion."
The starred review from SLJ said of it, "Personalities are artfully created so that both parents and children will recognize themselves within these pages. A seamless and supremely satisfying presentation of art and text."
The starred Booklist review (which is more than a little excellent) by Jennifer Mattson said, "This comic gem proves that Caldecott Medal-winner Willems, the Dr. Spock and Robin Williams of the lap-sit crowd, has just as clear a bead on pre-verbal children as on silver-tongued preschoolers . . . Even children who can already talk a blue streak will come away satisfied that their own strong emotions have been mirrored and legitimized, and readers of all ages will recognize the agonizing frustration of a little girl who knows far more than she can articulate."
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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