In my current regular storytime group, I have a little one who insists he has whatever book I’m reading at his house, too. I hold up a book and he jumps in excitement. “I have that book at my house!” he says, while his parents shake their head behind him. I tease him saying, “We must have exactly the same bookshelves.” And he nods, as if I’ve finally understood.
This phenomenon has spread a bit, and now others also jump in with excitement saying that they, too, have the book I’m about to read them. Sometimes they do, usually they don’t. It makes no difference — we’re there to read the book together. This last weekend, since Valentine’s Day approacheth, we read stories of love. We talked a little about how we love others, how love is an action — something we do.
When I held up The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (writer and illustrator), a family of three little ones jumped up excitedly. “We have that book! We have that book!” They could hardly hold it together they were so excited. I figured they probably did have the book since their response was so coördinated.
I love reading this book to a group. They follow Taylor, the little one in the book, as he decides to build something with his big box of blocks—Something new. Something special. Their eyes are wide in wonder and expectation.
It’s usually a quiet beginning. I watch the kids’ eyes “read,” following the little building block construction vignettes as we go. But these three siblings…they were bouncing on the edge of their seats—gleeful, outrageously delighted with what they knew was coming.
What comes first is something every child knows. Out of nowhere…things came crashing down.
I had half a group of listeners with empathetic slumped shoulders as they surveyed the destruction. But still, three were bouncing in excitement. I kept reading.
The chicken was the first to notice. The chicken has a lot to say. Too much to say. She wants to talk, talk, talk about it. But Taylor doesn’t feel like talking. The three who were familiar with the story were now fairly levitating they were so excited. I turned the page. And there it was: the bear page.
Clearly, this is what they were waiting for — they shrieked in mock horror. The bear rarrs and grarrs. We made the most of this together. We rarred and grarred to the utter delight the three who knew the story…and just to the edge of nervousness for the rest in the group.
As soon as I turned the page after the bear, the three siblings settled in their chairs, their smiles wide, and listened to the rest of the story in relative calm. The elephant comes and tries to fix things up…the hyena suggests they laugh about it all…the ostrich demonstrates a great way of hiding and pretending nothing has happened…the kangaroo wants to sweep it all away…and the snake ssssugggestsss they knock down someone else’s blocks.
The children were riveted — especially to the snake. They sat up. They watched me hissssss the lines. They knew this thing — this temptation to strike back/out — viscerally. And it dawned on me that they knew the bear’s reaction well, too. This group is young. They frequently respond with grarrs and lash-outs — they could feel the bear’s and the snake’s reactions in their bones.
The book is called The Rabbit Listened for a reason. After all the other not-so-helpfuls leave the scene, the rabbit comes and carefully, with the greatest respect, sits next to Taylor. In silence.
The children stare, open-mouthed at Doerrfeld’s drawings. The rabbit listens as Taylor talks and shouts and remembers and laughs. The rabbit listens to ill-advised plans to hide, and throw things away, and ruin things for others. The rabbit does not leave. Does not preach or argue. The rabbit listens.
And after Taylor runs through the gamut of emotions, he decides to build again.
My group broke into smiles all around. They totally got it.
As they left storytime I heard an older brother say to a younger brother, “The rabbit loves best, doesn’t he?”
Indeed, the rabbit loves best.…