Co-review: Knuffle Bunny Too and Peter Sís’ The Wall

h1 August 16th, 2007 by Eisha and Jules

Knuffle Bunny Too:
A Case of Mistaken Identity

by Mo Willems
Release date: September 2007
(Advance readers’ copies)

Jules: Trixie’s back, and this time she knows plenty of words. She also has another dramatic epiphany: Last time it was realizing she left her beloved Knuffle Bunny in the washing machine at the laundromat. This time, hand-in-hand with her Daddy on her way to preschool, she comes to the harsh realization that her favorite plush doll is not as one-of-a-kind as she thought it was. Another girl in her classroom, Sonja, has a Knuffle Bunny as well. After lots of glaring and fighting over their dolls, including the correct pronunciation of its name (in what I suppose is a nod — and a very funny one at that — to the number of times Willems has probably been asked if it’s pronounced “Kuh-nuffle” or “Nuffle”), the teacher removes the dolls from their clutches and then — egads! — mixes them up when she returns them. And this time the “Trixie realized something” moment comes at approximately 2:30 a.m., making it an interesting night, indeed, for Trixie’s daddy, as they both attempt to return the right dolls to their rightful owners.

Eisha, what did you think? Is this not a completely winning sequel in every way? And I was worried, too, since sequels can be tricky things, but it totally delivers. And I’d like to quickly add that my three-year-old, when we first read it, immediately said “that’s not Trixie’s bunny” when the teacher returned them all mixed-up. I hadn’t even noticed this yet. Leave it to a child with their superpower-sharp observation skills.

eisha: That’s awesome. But maybe you just hadn’t had your coffee yet… Anyway, yes, this is a great sequel, and a great book in its own right. I just love the illustration style of the Knuffle Bunny books – the pastel-colored inked characters superimposed over black&white photographs just works for me. And I love the way the illustrations are positioned on the pages – sometimes staggered in a scrapbook effect, sometimes wrapping around the edge of the page, pulling the action forward.

Like all Willems’s books, there’s definitely a sophisticated edge to the humor. The dad’s face peeking out from under Trixie’s word balloon as she demonstrates how well she can “talk and talk” is priceless. And the phone call in the middle of the night, with the man’s voice saying “We have your bunny” – hilarious. And the two rumpled, unshaven dads looking on in stunned silence as their daughters blithely trade bunnies at school the next morning cracked me up. There’s a lot for an observant reader to enjoy here.

How ’bout you? What did you love about it?

Jules: I read recently (at this DRAWN! interview) about the work that goes into those grayscale photographs in the Knuffle Bunny books, that Willems digitally removes objects like air-conditioners, trash, garbage cans, etc. so that the pictures possess “the ‘emotional truth’ of my personal experience.” I wonder if two tons of work had to go into the wonderful aerial spread of the Arch in Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn (I’ve read in more than one place, including here at Fuse’s old template, that the photo was taken at 3 a.m. on the top of the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library). Anyway, he makes it all look so simple, but it’s far from it.

I think these Knuffle Bunny books can be ranked right up there with Kevin Henkes’ wonderful domestic dramas (as my grad children’s lit professor used to call them, but then so does every reviewer in the world) — you know, all his mouse-protagonist stories, featuring Lilly and Wendell and Owen and such. Both Henkes and Willems are indisputable experts at mirroring the emotions of toddlers and pre-schoolers. But then amen, too, to what you said about the level of sophistication for the parents reading these books to those children. There are many more laughs for adults in this sequel — from the look Trixie’s daddy has when she’s going on and on about school in the beginning of the book, as you mentioned, to the look his wife gives him at 2 a.m. when he tries to put off the bunny search.

My very favorite moment — as in, the first time I read it, I had to put the book down and laugh aloud for a minute and then pick it up and see it again — is when Trixie first sees the other Knuffle Bunny, and the image of Sonja holding the bunny (with her nefarious smile) gets smaller and smaller in three successive frames and zooms in on the bunny’s face — not unlike you’re watching it on a movie or television screen (and I could hear the dramatic da-da-da! score in my head). Camera moves and such, you know. Oh my, I still laugh every time I see that. Willems got praised up and down with Knuffle Bunny for his ability to nail body language in his illustrations, and he really delivers this time, especially on that spread and especially in the very deflated look Trixie has right after she sees that other plush bunny. It is all just the very essence of toddler (not a new cologne, despite how it sounds). Rather, pre-schooler this time. Well, you know what I mean.

And, hey, I noticed that illustrations-wrapping-around-the-edge-of-the-page effect you mentioned; that didn’t happen in the first book. There are images in the first book that bleed to the very edge, but this sequel has some that definitely wrap around, propelling you forward as you read. Neat technique.

Did you have a favorite moment, too, or do they all wrap up for you into the one Unforgettable Knuffle Bunny Electric Bugaloo Experience?

eisha: Ha! Tough call. I do love the “zoom” moment you described. I love the “We have your bunny” noir moment. I love the view of the Arch. I love the epilogue. I love the moment when Trixie has flung the wrong bunny on the bed between her parents and is pointing accusingly at it.

Yup, I guess you’d have to say I love the whole Knuffle Bunny 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold experience.

Jules: Knuffle Bunny Episode II: Attack of the Clones all the way!

* * * * * * *

The Wall:
Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

by Peter Sís
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
August 2007
(review copies)

Jules: This is Sís’ latest title, what Booklist calls a “combination of graphic novel and picture book.” For anyone who has perhaps not already heard about this one, let’s just take the publisher’s handy blurb:

Through annotated illustrations, journals, maps, and dreamscapes, Peter Sís shows what life was like for a child who loved to draw, proudly wore the red scarf of a Young Pioneer, stood guard at the giant statue of Stalin, and believed whatever he was told to believe. But adolescence brought questions. Cracks began to appear in the Iron Curtain, and news from the West slowly filtered into the country. Sís learned about beat poetry, rock ’n’ roll, blue jeans, and Coca-Cola. He let his hair grow long, secretly read banned books, and joined a rock band. Then came the Prague Spring of 1968, and for a teenager who wanted to see the world and meet the Beatles, this was a magical time. It was short-lived, however, brought to a sudden and brutal end by the Soviet-led invasion. But this brief flowering had provided a glimpse of new possibilities—creativity could be discouraged but not easily killed.

Eisha, I think this book is so amazing that I can’t quite apply enough what-will-probably-seem-meaningless adjectives to it: poignant, stunning, beautiful, powerful. What did you think? Did you read Fuse’s recent review (Part One and Part Two), definitely some food-for-thought?

eisha: I hadn’t read her review until after I’d read the book. She has some good points – this is not a neutral book. But it’s a memoir of a certain period in Sís’s life. I generally took the anti-Communist/pro-West tone as reflective of Sís’s feelings during that period, so I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. But a few bibliographic references wouldn’t hurt, I suppose.

My primary impression of this book is its density. There is just so much there to look at, it’s hard to know how to read it. I found myself wishing I had a magnifying glass – his illustrations are jam-packed with tiny details that really add to the atmosphere of the story. For example, the page with the text “Then he found out there were things he wasn’t told” at the bottom – if you look in the attic of the cross-sectioned house, you can see a swastika flag gathering dust behind a pair of skis – a remnant of Czechoslovakia’s Nazi occupation, and a reminder of the similarities between that regime and the Soviet one that took its place. And I loved seeing his art from the period, and how it changed as he matured. The use of color is brilliant – only flashes of red in a predominantly black&white world, except for his little drawings peeking out in their hopeful pastels. And that two-page spread of him riding away off the cliff on his bicycle, towards a hazy blue New York skyline, with his paintings forming a pair of wings behind him… just incredible.

That closing illustration of Sís as a middle-aged adult in the same pose as the Baby Sís illustration from the beginning is creepy, though. I wish he hadn’t drawn himself with his head turned all the way around like that.

Your turn, J. Go ahead and throw some adjectives around.

Jules: Your response to the anti-Communist/pro-West tone as reflective of him during that time is how I felt, too. I normally am all for subtlety in children’s books, less black and white (so to speak) approaches in storytelling, letting children put two and two together for themselves. But I also think in this kind of powerful story in which freedoms are so majorly hard-won that, well . . . it’s excusable to forego the need for such subtlety, such finely-drawn distinctions. There’s also a certain level of stylization in the illustrations here, particularly if Sís decidely set out to make this a combination of graphic novel and picture book. The pig-nosed soldiers, in other words, worked for me.

As for the density, I think — as Fuse also pointed out — that this is prime material for high schoolers, especially to supplement a world history course. I say give them those magnifying glasses, if you will, and as much time as you can spare, and let them take this all in. There is so much to pore over, particulary his old art work, as you mentioned, and photos. Didn’t I read somewhere that it took him years to create this, to work up the courage to tell the subject matter of his story, so raw for so many years? And yet, even though it is his personal memoir, it connects at such a universal level, too — the longing for personal freedom. It was all so, I dunno — does touching sound too corny? ‘Cause I thought it was.

And I agree about the final illustration. Didn’t work for me either. “Creepy” describes that moment well.

I read this in the School Library Journal review (’cause I’m a nerd who enjoys reading reviews): “The pacing and design of the compositions create their own rhythm, contributing much to the resulting polyphony.” How did you feel about the pacing and compositions? As you said, since there were so many details to pore over on some spreads, I found the larger, less detailed spreads almost a relief (such as the Prague Spring of 1968 spread), though they were detailed, too.

eisha: “Polyphony” is a good word. In some places it even borders on cacophony. So yes, I thought it was a good thing that the finely-detailed illustrations are occasionally interspersed with the large two-pagers. As I mentioned before, I had a hard time figuring out how to read this. At first I felt like I was spending too much time poring over each little illustration and reading all the little expositional snippets in the margins. That felt clunky, so I started over, just reading the story text at the bottom of the pages, thinking I’d come back and read all the historical stuff in a second reading. But that didn’t feel very satisfying – the story text doesn’t tell you enough about what’s happening in the illustrations. So in the end I think you really have to throw the idea of a linear story out the window. This is more like a series of galleries in a museum, with each collection of images and text combining to give the artist’s impression of a time and place; and you wander through, stopping in each room and looking at everything there is to see until you’ve had your fill. And definitely bring a magnifying glass.

And no, I don’t think “touching” is a corny word at all. It was touching. This was his actual life, after all, his dreams and artistic integrity he was fighting for. It’s interesting how the the struggles of Sís and his friends parallel the whole ’60s youth culture movement, but on a much more dramatic scale. In the U.S., if you had long hair you might not get a job or be served in restaurants; in Czechoslovakia the police would chase you down with scissors. And worse.

That’s all I’ve got to say about it. How about you? Any last thoughts?

Jules: I think we mostly covered it. Your museum-gallery analogy for reading it/taking it all in is an apt one. “Apt” — now, that sounds like a watered-down compliment if ever there were one. “YES! SO APT!” {pumping arms in air} . . . but you know what I mean. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what happens, come award season, no? And I meant to add a big resounding YES! to the spread you were talking about — the “two-page spread of him riding away off the cliff on his bicycle, towards a hazy blue New York skyline, with his paintings forming a pair of wings behind him . . .” I found that very moving, too. It’s the ultimate example of the power of the art to heal, one of my favorite themes in literature, as I’ve rambled about before. Even more, really. It’s art as an escape. Powerful stuff.

Thanks for talkin’ books again, E-dawg. Doing a co-review on picture books was crizazy fun. Let’s take on Punk Farm on Tour next, since we just got our copies and since we get to interview Cow and Sheep and Pig and Goat and Chicken soon, as they gear up for their big concert tour. Until then . . .

14 comments to “Co-review: Knuffle Bunny Too and Peter Sís’ The Wall

  1. Re: The Wall – Well played. I don’t know about you but when I hear only praise about a book without any “buts” “yets” or “ifs” I get ants in my pants. Great take on your part. And yes, the final image is creepy. A tiny-naked-man-meets-The-Exorcist look. Dunno if that was quite what he was going for. Still, a lovely book. Let’s take bets on how many awards it gets.

  2. Word, Fuse. I really enjoyed reading your review and the food-for-thought it provided.

    Have you seen Knuffle Bunny Too: I Know What You Did With My Bunny Last Summer? . . . uh, that one’s weak. Oh well.

    Anyway, thanks, Betsy!

  3. Thanks, Fuse. I wonder if it could be one of those crossover titles, given the need for an older audience than most picture books – maybe short-listed for a Newbery instead of a Caldecott. What do you think?

    But it definitely seems like a NYT Best Illustrated contender, and probably a Boston Globe-Hornbook contender too – they tend to like those non-fictiony picture books.

    Now that you’ve mentioned it, we didn’t have any “buts” or “yets” about KB2. Um… an argument could be made that a some of the humor is too sophisticated for the intended audience. But I think that’s true of most of Willems’s books, and one of the reasons for their success. They have really wide age-range appeal, and kids appreciation for them can grow as they do.

    Sorry, I just can’t think of any real negatives. It just rocks too hard.

  4. The only way it could rock harder would be if it were covered in chocolate, to take your words from yesterday, Eisha (in a separate email to me about something else), which made me HOO HA laugh out loud.

    HOO HA again!

  5. Totally, totally, totally digging the dialog review. The back-and-forth allows you guys to bring up different ideas in an organic way. Not many (any?) out there doing this sort of thing and the result here is that it gives the reviews more depth than a lone voice in the wilderness.

    More of it I say, more, please.

  6. Aw shucks, David. Thanks. We’ve actually done them for a while now. I guess we could have a searchable “co-review” category. They’re really fun; Eisha and I used to do this all the time anyway in person or via email. I mean, shoot, I was trying to get *her* to start a blog when she convinced me we both should, ’cause I love to hear her talk about books. She always gets me thinking.

    We have one coming up (probably on Monday) in which we invited a blogger to join us — Betsy, a.k.a. Fuse, had mentioned us all reading a sequel together (she mentioned it back at the beginning of this year) that was just released, so we all three read it and did a tri-review (The Three Stooges might be more like it, and I say that with great respect to Betsy and Eisha). Now, that was really fun!

    And we’d love to keep doing it with other bloggers . . . ahem, David. Hint. Hint. Wouldn’t that be fun?

    Anyway, that is to come on Monday. Thanks for the co-review compliment!

  7. This is one fine chat, ladies. And I didn’t know about the Sis book. I’m so intrigued to read something of his with density since I think of his work as spare. Thanks much…

  8. Glad that you to (and you two) loved KnuffleBunny Too (or Two)! Not that I had any doubt. It truly holds up as a sequel – or frankly on its own. Though who would ever want to read just one Mo book, I can’t imagine.

    Haven’t seen The Wall yet, but enjoyed your dialogue about it. It sounds like it is going to be The 2007 Book Every Kid Lit Person Has To Read. (I started to type Kit Litter and then realized how very wrong that was.)

  9. […] A cool co-review of Knuffle Bunny Too and The Wall at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. […]

  10. I’m also a fan of your co-reviews – sometimes I find a review hard to slog through, but the back-and-forth makes me feel like part of the conversation. You really ought to add a searchable category!

  11. Yes! Please add a “co-review” category to your searches!
    -says she who came oh-so-lately to your blog and missed some really good stuff

    And MR: you’d better post about kid litter. Or better yet, write a poem.

  12. Yeah, thanks, David and Jess! That’s kind of you to say.

    Liz in Ink, good call… While the style is unmistakably Sis, it is a big departure from Fire Truck or Dinosaur.

    Touche, MotherReader. (Oh, sorry, that was a terrible pun.) And I imagine someone could make a lot of money for inventing Kid Litter. Potty training is such a hassle, after all.

  13. Thanks for the Knuffle Bunny Too review. And yes, I also love your review style!

    As a former preschool teacher, I have seen many a beloved stuffed animals (and blankies, toys, etc.) left at school or lost, and have witnessed the trauma it induces. I anticipating this book will strike a chord with many children, parents, and teachers!

  14. And thanks, Sara and Amy. I think you’re right, Amy – kids loved KB when I read it in storytime, and I think KB2 will be just as big a hit.

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact Thanks.