By Amanda Take
Mo Willems’s Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity tells the story of a little girl named Trixie. The story is told by a narrator from a third person limited omniscient point of view. The narrator concentrates on the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of Trixie, but has the option to know everything about the other characters. Willems uses both literary elements and visual elements to draw readers into the story and help them to understand the situation that is unfolding concerning Knuffle bunny and his owner.
According to Norton (2011), an effective plot has enough action, excitement, and conflict to develop a reader’s interest in the story. It helps involve readers in the story. The plot unfolds as Trixie and her dad are walking through town talking. At first readers are unsure where they are going, but finally we learn that Trixie is very excited this morning because she is taking her one of a kind Knuffle bunny someplace very special. She’s taking it to school! However, when she gets there, she sees that Sonja also has a Knuffle bunny and quickly realizes that hers is not one of a kind after all. The girls fight and do not get along, so the teacher takes their bunnies away and does not give them back until the school day is over. When she goes home, her day improves and we follow Trixie through her nightly routine, where she “eats” dinner, devours her dessert, brushes her teeth, plays with her parents, and finally goes to bed. Then a few hours later, after she cannot fall asleep, Trixie realizes that the Knuffle bunny that she has is not her own. She wakes up her parents who try to explain to her that it is 2:30am, but she will not listen. Sonja’s dad calls Trixie’s house, because Sonja too has realized that she does not have her bunny. Trixie and her dad end up running through the neighborhood at night, to exchange the bunnies. Then Sonja and Trixie end up becoming friends. In fact, Sonja is Trixie’s first best friend, except for Knuffle bunny. In the epilogue, the girls are best friends and they play with each other’s Knuffle bunnies.
This story exemplifies a few different types of conflicts. The main conflict in the story is person against person. Trixie gets mad at Sonja because she has the same Knuffle bunny and Trixie had thought that hers was one of a kind. They fight all day at school and end up getting their bunnies taken away. Later, it becomes a person against self conflict as both girls realize that they do not have the correct bunny and struggle to deal with it until the bunnies are ultimately switched back. This allows the girls to become friends, ultimately solving the person against person conflict.
According to Norton (2011), setting is the location of the story in both time and place. The book takes place in a city in current times. It happens over the span of two days. It covers everything from the time Trixie and her dad are walking to school, to what happens during the school day, to after school, to bed time, to the switch back of the bunnies, and ultimately to the next morning, in the epilogue, where the new best friends are playing together with their Knuffle bunnies. This story makes use of setting as mood, because the text and illustrations help to create the mood. Since it is set in a city and in a school, it makes sense to have small children arguing over toy bunnies. However, this would not make as much sense in a much different setting, for instance if the children were wandering alone in the woods.
Willems does a great job with her characterization of Trixie. According to Norton (2011), characters must be believable and develop throughout the story. Trixie really does seem like an average preschooler. She is eager and excited to go to school because she has something she wants to share with everyone. She also has a stuffed bunny, just like many young children who have a blanket or stuffed animal that they like to carry around with them. She does not get along with Sonja because Sonja also has a bunny, which made hers less than one of a kind. However, in just twenty four hours, the two girls become best friends. Also, Trixie does not understand that it is 2:30am when she wakes her parents up, because she is too young and has not learned the concept of telling time yet. All of these things help to make Trixie seem realistic, and she develops as she overcomes her conflicts and ultimately is able to become best friends with Sonja.
According to Norton (2011), the theme of a book is the underlying message or idea that readers are supposed to take away from the book. The theme of this story is revealed by changes in characters. In the beginning of the book Sonja and Trixie do not get along because they have the same bunny and they had previously thought that their bunnies were one of a kind. However, after a common experience in which the bunnies are taken away and then returned to the wrong owners, the girls realize that they are actually quite similar, and they become best friends. The theme of this book is that common experiences bring people together and allow them to bond.
Willems has a very unique style which she presents in the book. First of all, she chooses to use large print, black text on a grey background. Additionally, she chooses to use a combination of real photos and drawings to create the illustrations for the text. However, she does not keep these two types of artwork separate; instead, she overlays them, using real photos for the backgrounds of her illustrations and drawing in her characters and a few other things on top of the photos. Also, a few times in the story, Willems inserts cartoon-like talking bubbles to allow words to come directly from the character itself, as opposed to coming from the narrator. Another unique stylistic element comes through how she displays her illustrations. Many of the pages have more than one illustration, sometimes with as many as four or five different photo boxes on one page. At other times, the pictures run off one page and only once readers turn the page do they see the rest of the picture. Since readers only see part of the picture at once, it helps to keep them engaged and interested in the book because they always want to turn the page to see what is occurring in the rest of the picture and in the following pictures. In a sense, the illustrations in this book are sort of like those of a comic book; however, there is additional text in this book that would not be found in a comic. Another example of stylistic illustrations occurs when Trixie first sees Sonja with a Knuffle bunny. Willems zooms the picture in, meaning that the picture on the far left is Sonja with the bunny, then the next depicts the bunny in Sonja’s arms, the next picture is just Sonja’s bunny’s head, and finally the last picture on that two page spread is Trixie standing there with her bunny looking distraught. Since Willems used real photos, they are full of the details of everyday life. This helps students to connect to the book even more because it allows them to see things that they would see in their own lives: at home, in their neighborhoods, on the playground, and in the classroom at school. Such common and familiar things are inviting, especially to young children and would help to make them more interested in the book.
Lines can be used to convey several messages ranging from feelings, to movement, to the lack thereof. According to Norton (2011), horizontal lines imply horizons, sleep, and feelings of calmness and stability. This book has several examples of horizontal lines. One example is the streets and sidewalks in the city. Another example is the hallways, stairs, and bookshelves in the school. Each of these things suggests that Trixie is in a very safe and stable environment. Norton (2011) also says that vertical lines tend to portray artificial things and suggest a lack of movement. Some examples of vertical lines in the book are the trees and walls of the buildings in the city, including the school and her house. This suggests that she will always have a safe place to which she can return, someplace that is familiar to her, because these things are not going to be going anywhere. The buildings and stairs are also constructed from lines that make up right angles. According to Norton (2011), lines at right angles tend to depict artificial elements. These things are manmade and are therefore artificial. The characters in the story are drawn using many curvy lines. For the people who are drawn this way, it suggests that they are comforting, nice, warm, and friendly people who readers would want to be around. Knuffle bunny is also drawn with curved lines, which make him seem cuddly. Kids would likely relate Knuffle bunny to one of their own stuffed animals. When Trixie and her dad are quickly walking, both to school and to exchange the bunnies, their bodies are portrayed using diagonal lines. According to Norton (2011), diagonal lines suggest a loss of balance or uncontrolled motion. This makes cohesive sense, since they are moving very quickly. The lines that are used to create Knuffle bunny’s ears throughout the story are also effective in conveying the mood of the story. Sometimes, they are straight up and vertical, sometimes they are slanted to the side and diagonal, and sometimes they are hanging down. This seems to suggest that Knuffle bunny himself has emotions which are portrayed through his changing ears.
This book makes use of color in very interesting ways. First of all, the illustrations are not completely drawn by the illustrator. Instead, there are real photos with cartoon people sketched on top. The background photos of the city are all in black and white, while the characters in the story are drawn in vibrant colors. This helps the characters to stand out and seem almost to pop off of the page. It helps to focus the reader’s attention on the characters and their actions, as opposed to getting caught up with everything that is going on in the background. According to Norton (2011), reds, oranges, and yellows are used to signify warmth, heat, fire, sun, blood, friendliness, high energy, and anger. On the other hand, blues, greens, and violets signify air, water, plant life, coolness, coldness, tranquility, and melancholy. Willems used colors that stand out against the black and white backgrounds. However, these colors are also very realistic. She dresses the characters in colors that people normally wear, with Trixie and the other students wearing very bright and vibrant colors, while the adults wear more formal and less flashy clothes. In the daytime, the colors that are present are more vibrant, while at night they are toned down and become more pastel, playing into the darkness.
Light also plays a significant role in the book. Since the illustrations are partially made from real photographs, sometimes it is hard to see the changes in light, though sometimes it is easier. For example, throughout the day, from the time Trixie walks to school until she goes to bed, you can see sunlight as well as lights in the buildings. This presence of light is noticeable in the glares on different surfaces, such as windows and banisters on staircases. This helps to make the neighborhood and school seem like happy, safe places. It is easy to see why Trixie would be so excited to go to school. Also, readers can see a lot of shadows in the pictures. This is especially evident when Trixie and the other characters are outside walking around or playing on the playground; however, at times, readers can also see shadows caused by the lights inside. For example, at night, readers can tell in the photos that the lights are off in their house, because the photos all of a sudden get a little darker and Trixie’s eyelids become a darker color, heavy with sleep. Once she realizes that she does not have her Knuffle bunny, there is a lot less light in the pictures, until her dad makes arrangements for the switch. This suggests that without her Knuffle bunny, Trixie is scared. Also, her parents’ room is dark until she goes in, and then in the next picture readers can see that they have turned on the light that is on the wall. Also, there is a picture that shows their house from the outside. Readers can tell that it is dark outside, and because the lights are now on in Trixie’s house, they can see shadows of Trixie and her dad through the windows as her dad talks on the phone to Sonja’s father. When Trixie and her dad are running through town to meet up with Sonja and her dad, there are a few street lights that are illuminated. Furthermore, the place where they meet to make the exchange is well-lit. These things all suggest that once each girl has her respective Knuffle bunny everything is all right and they are not scared or worried anymore. The next day when Trixie and Sonja have become friends, the sun is once again present and everyone seems happy. The change in light helps to show a passing of time. Another way in which this passing of time is shown is through the clock on the wall in Trixie’s bedroom. At night, when she cannot sleep, she is shown in five successive pictures, until she realizes that she cannot sleep because it is not her Knuffle bunny. In each picture, the clock on the wall behind her shows the time getting later and later. Interestingly enough, the clock is a Knuffle bunny clock and the time is shown by his ears. This just helps to tie in how important Knuffle bunny is to her.
The shapes and texture used in the book are also unique, due to the mixture of real photos and drawings. The whole point of providing illustrations with texture is to make them seem more realistic. This invites children to feel like they are a part of the story. It makes them want to reach out and touch the things they are reading about and it makes the story seem more real. The idea of texture in this book is really interesting because Willems’ cartoon drawings are placed on top of the realistic photos. The photographs show things as they are, the way that kids are used to seeing them. A bed looks soft and inviting, a tree is tall and scratchy. The cartoon drawings are still somewhat realistic and very believable. When this is mixed with the shapes that are present in the book, it helps to portray not only the mood and setting but also aids in the characterization. According to Norton (2011), there are two types of shapes. There are organic shapes, which are irregular, curving, and freeform. These shapes tend to be found in nature and handmade objects. There are also geometric shapes, which are exact, rigid, and often rectangular. These shapes usually have mechanical origins. This book contains both. The trees and nature in the photos are more organic, while the buildings are more geometric. Also, the characters appear to be quite organic, because they are, for the most part, curvy as opposed to being very rigid and exact shapes.
In her children’s book entitled, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, Mo Willems successfully uses both literary elements and visual elements to take readers into the story and help them to understand the situation that is unfolding concerning Knuffle bunny and his owner. Her use of literary elements is reinforced through her use of visual elements. Thus, light, color, line, shape, and texture help to connect and further develop the plot, setting, characterization, theme, style, and point of view. When all of these things are tied together, it helps to make the story more appealing to children, because they are able to connect to it and see themselves in the story. Mo Willems is an award winning author and illustrator and her ability to tie all of these things together helps to make this a great book to read to children.
Norton, D. E. (2011). Through the eyes of a child: an introduction to children’s literature (8 ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Willems, M. (2007). Knuffle Bunny too: A case of mistaken identity. NY, NY: Scholastic, Inc.