This is an oddly placed review, on the grounds that this is the third book in a trilogy of Knuffle Bunny stories, but we happened to have it on loan from the library so here you are.
The previous two books, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity deal with the same basic plotline as this third installment: Trixie, now looking four or five instead of the toddler in the first book, goes on a trip and loses Knuffle Bunny. In this case the family is heading off to Holland (which given the book is American, is a REALLY long journey) to visit Oma and Opa.
On the following page, Knuffle Bunny disappears somewhere between the left and right hand page, which the sharp-eyed reader may spot before, some while later, Trixie realises he has gone.
The book handles the loss of a much-loved toy in a straightforward but accurate way. Trixie sees and does all sorts of exciting things, but none of them feel exciting without Knuffle Bunny. Her grandparents try to replace him with a new toy, but this clearly isn’t the same. Trixie wonders how she will sleep another night in a strange bed in a strange country without her comforter. She is understandably distraught, despite the adults trying to encourage her by telling her how big she is getting.
So far, so straightforward. The denouement is surely obvious: Knuffle Bunny will turn up in some miraculous fashion before the end of the book and they will all live happily ever after. However, Mo Willems is cleverer and more original than that. Trixie has a dream, about all the places Knuffle Bunny might go, and all the children he might help on his travels. And she feels a bit better. And she enjoys the rest of her holiday.
On the plane, the miraculous reunion does take place. Knuffle Bunny is in the pocket of the very seat she is sitting in (this does seem implausible but I have always wondered how often they clear out those seatback pockets). What happens next though is less predictable; in fact you have to wonder whether the writers of Toy Story 3 had read this book before making their film.
Mo Willems was praised for his inventive illustrations for the series and they are delightful. Trixie, Knuffle Bunny and all the characters are drawn in a simple cartoon style, but the backgrounds are all black and white photographs, giving a surprising sense of realism.
The writing is very simple but very direct, and the art of the storyteller makes this a moving fable about growing up, and moving on. It’s reflected in the poignant message at the end of the book from Willems to his own Trixie, about his hopes for her future life.
He proved with the Pigeon books that he is an inventive writer with an eye for the way that small children think, and here Mo Willems shows all that plus a sense of pathos. He understands the way that children and adults view their progression through the milestones of childhood and any little one who reads this will empathise with Trixie – and potentially learn about selflessness and sacrifice as well.
A wonderful piece of storytelling and one to savour.