Fans of Mo Willems’ popular Knuffle Bunny series have watched Trixie grow from the verbally challenged toddler who loses it when she loses her beloved stuffed toy at the Laundromat (Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale) to the preschooler who grapples with the fact that she isn’t the only little girl with a Knuffle Bunny (Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity). Now comes the final and most mature installment in the series: Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion.
In Willems’ new book, Trixie and her parents are on their way to Holland to visit her grandparents, “Oma” and “Opa.” It isn’t until she’s in her grandparents’ garden, enjoying a nice cold glass of chocolate milk, that she realizes that she’s left Knuffle Bunny in the plane. When her father calls the airline, they find out that the plane has already left … for China. Trixie is old enough to know that “China is very far away;” this time Daddy can’t magically arrange for Bunny to come back. Trixie’s parents try to console her and her grandparents try to distract her with a techno-advanced Knuffle Bunny-look-alike. But it’s no use; Trixie can’t fully enjoy her vacation because she misses her bunny too much. Then, one night, she has a dream about Knuffle Bunny traveling around the world, meeting other kids and making them happy. This makes her feel better and she’s able to enjoy the rest of her trip.
Spoiler alert: Next comes the poignant, sweet ending. On the plane ride headed back home, Trixie is astounded to discover Knuffle Bunny buried in the seat pocket in front of her, just where she’d left him. The tale could have concluded here, but Willems pushes the story further and explores the concepts of growing up and letting go. When Trixie notices a baby crying in the row behind her, she decides to give her beloved toy to the unhappy infant; “The baby was happy. The baby’s mother was thankful. Trixie’s parents were proud. And the other passengers were very relieved.”
I have to admit that I cried at the ending, especially after reading the note to Trixie from her loving dad. (You may want to read Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion alone the first time, so your kids won’t wonder why you’re bawling!) But my tears were from the perspective of a parent thinking ahead to the day when my babies will be all grown. With younger readers, there may be some children who’ll cry or be sad at the ending because they don’t understand why Trixie gives away her bunny. Now that you know how this story ends, you decide; you’re the best judge of whether your child is developmentally ready for Trixie’s generous gesture. I, for one, love this final brave chapter in the Knuffle Bunny series and can’t wait to read it to my daughter when the time feels right.
Are you and the children in your life a fan of the Knuffle Bunny series? Have you read the latest book, Knuffle Bunny Free? What do you think about the ending?