Knuffle Bunny Inspires Reflection: Using Children’s Literature for Professional Learning

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.

Like, my grandchildren, I love Knuffle Bunny, a floppy stuffed rabbit, featured in a series of books by Mo Willems. I first became aware of, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale when I was teaching a history and philosophy course to early childhood education students. The idea of using children’s books with my students to inspire deep thinking, was so intriguing! Children’s books are wonderful prompts for reflection. Knuffle Bunny, published in 2004, is a timeless tale of the developing child, as seen through Trixie. The story is relatable, simple and at the same time, thought provoking on many levels. When my daughter told me there was a Knuffle Bunny Too that my granddaughter Reese loves as much as the original, and it was about friendships, I was so excited! I knew I had to expand my library of children’s books by one more. I have been writing about professional friendships for my new book with Redleaf Press, and I have been wondering, what brings two people together in friendship? Right before confirming my order, I see that there is a third book! This sweet surprise brought with it so much! I was not prepared for how emotionally I would connect to Knuffle Bunny Free! “An Unexpected Diversion”. It was unexpected.

Taken together, these books, are the stories of Trixie coming of age. From not having the language to express big feelings, to her first human friendship, to learning the value of giving, we watch Trixie grow through the years to become a parent herself. While children’s literature has a special place in the development of the young child, books can also aid in the reflection of the developing child. Through books, children can learn and make sense of their world. Through books, teachers of children, can learn and make sense of their observations, reflections, and understanding of child development. In Big Ideas for Little Kids by Thomas Wartenberg, children’s literature becomes the spark for philosophical dialogue. Knuffle Bunny is featured as one example! The story about Trixie and her favourite stuffed animal can inspire thought and discussion on the nature of language. When Trixie leaves Knuffle Bunny in the laundromat she is distraught but is having difficulty expressing why. Her father doesn’t respond to “aggle flaggle klabble”. Trixie cries “waaaa!” until her mother realizes what has happened and she is finally reunited with her bunny. During this momentous reunion, we hear Trixie say her first words, “Knuffle Bunny”. Wartenberg (2014) offers many questions for philosophical discussion related to the book. Engaging in a thoughtful exchange on the abstract ideas of communication, language, behaviour, and meaning supports children in their cognitive development. When children connect to the story, it will provoke thought as they relate to the book. Knuffle Bunny is such a relatable story and so much fun to read! Children can relate as they share the experience of firsts with Trixie. In a matter of months, those initial words become the child’s gateway to the world as they learn to communicate. During a video chat with my granddaughter, I was over the moon, to watch and listen to her interact with the book!

Reese could see herself in Trixie. When children feel that they are like the characters in their stories, it supports a developing sense of sense and a sense of belonging. What must it feel like to go from having no words to being able to communicate with words? As Reese’s vocabulary expands and her articulation increases, it is easier for her to express herself. Still, she has moments when, we don’t know what she is saying, and ultimately what she wants. Through Trixie we can understand that this time in the development of the child, can be challenging and frustrating. I can imagine how Trixie felt when she spoke her first word! It is empowering to have a voice and to use it! From her first words to her first friendship, we can follow Trixie through the years. Knuffle Bunny Too, is the second in the book series. This case of mistaken identity tells the tale of another milestone, another first; Trixie’s first best friend (apart from Knuffle Bunny, of course)! Being an early childhood educator, means we have the gift of firsts. In the early years, children have their first friendships! I have been reflecting on professional friendships and children’s friendships. As early childhood educators, what can we learn from observing children while they form friendships? What can we learn by examining, reflecting on, and cultivating professional friendships? What brings together two children or two adults to form a friendship? In Knuffle Bunny Too, the friendship is born from a common interest. Sonja has a Knuffle Bunny too! You can imagine what ensues based on this tale of mistaken identities!

A common interest is a shared interest. In the Theory of I, Thou, It David Hawkins speaks to shared interest as the third thing, or the “It”. This is the thing which is of interest to the child and to the adult. The theory as viewed from the perspective of a triangle. I, Thou, It, supports the understanding of content and the development of relationships. On one side of the triangle, a shared interest leads to a deeper exploration of content as each involved learner helps each other uncover new understandings. It is the shared interest that drives the learning.

In anticipation of a visit from my grandson, Griffen (age 5) I placed the three books in a pile on the coffee table as an invitation. I wasn’t sure if he would respond. Griffen is interested in superheroes and especially fascinated by their origin stories. I had an idea that if Griffen heard the story of Knuffle Bunny, he would see it in the same light, as an origin story or a story of firsts. Reading the books, would be a prompt to think deeply about the significance of these milestones. When Griffen noticed the books, he asked to read them and soon we were snuggling up together going through the series and discussing the stories of Trixie and her bunny. When we came to Knuffle Bunny Free, I warned Griffen that, it makes me emotional. With each page that turned, I knew, that the book would pull at Griffen’s heartstrings too. We paused often and he talked about Passy Bear and how emotionally connected he is to this particular bedtime stuffie. As we came to the end of the book, Griffen expressed that he was not happy with how he thought it was going to end. When it ended differently, we had lots to talk about it! We had a shared interest! As for Reese, she relates to this book too! She talks about leaving her beloved “Wubby” on an airplane! To her, at her age, this is the essence of the story. I know, it is going to be a book, that takes on new meaning, ever time it is read throughout her life. I know I will never, tire of reading these stories of Trixie and her bunny. Each time, they bring joy and prompts for thinking.

“In sharing enjoyment with a child there is a communication of the fact that as observers and learners we are of the same stuff.” Frances Hawkins

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