The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
It's hard to write a picture book about feelings that really works, but Cori Doerrfeld has done exactly that with The Rabbit Listened, which has the distinction of being one of the few picture books I buy each year.
The story of The Rabbit Listened is simple and filled with animals, which are two reasons why I think it works so well. Another brilliant aspect of this book is the main character, Taylor, who is never referred to with gender pronouns and therefore can be whatever the reader needs Taylor to be. Taylor builds an amazing block tower when it comes crashing down. Actually, a flock of blackbirds comes swooping through, knocking it over, adding drama and kid-logic to the story. Taylor is devastated and hunkers down, curly brown hair looking a lot like a black rain cloud. As Taylor tries to handle dark feelings, animals arrive and try to help.
The chicken wants to talk about it while the bear wants to shout about it. The elephant wants to remember it and the hyena wants to laugh about it. And so on. Each animal means well and is showing compassion by reaching out to Taylor, who is clearly in distress. And this makes for an amazing moment to talk to children about how we are all different and we all have different ways of dealing with challenging emotions. We might not always know the best or the right way to help someone in need, but it is important that we develop the capacity to recognize this and the courage to keep reaching out even when we don't get it right. And, in another great teachable moment, Doerrfeld has the snake invite Taylor to go and knock down someone else's tower as a way of feeling better, giving adults the opportunity to talk about the way that we sometimes spread our bad feelings to others.
The animals leave and the rabbit arrives, moving closer to the brooding Taylor until the rabbit is quietly connecting with Taylor who could, "feel its warm body." Somehow, just having the rabbit be there, Taylor is able to talk, shout, remember, laugh and cycle through all the other emotions the animals suggested. And, in the end, Taylor is ready to begin building again.
Doerrfeld's book works on many levels, making it even more vital as an addition to any bookshelf, especially bookshelves in school libraries and classrooms. Emotional intelligence is not something that we teach in school, and it's not something that every parent is equipped to teach to her/his children. But, like I always say, there is a book for everything. And this book is for everyone.