The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

The Rabbit Listened
by Cori Doerrfeld
Dial, 2018

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Cori Doerrfeld's wonderfully touching new book The Rabbit Listened begins on an optimistic note: a child named Taylor has built a castle of toy blocks and is quite naturally pleased with it. Then disaster strikes: a flock of birds swoops down low and knocks the whole thing over.

Taylor is understandably saddened and upset – and everybody nearby has their own response to the crisis. The chicken wants to talk about it – cluck, cluck, cluck – and, needless to add, do most of the talking. The bear wants to shout about it, but Taylor doesn't feel like shouting. And so it goes: the hyena wants to laugh about it; the ostrich wants to pretend it never happened; the snake wants to exact revenge by knocking down somebody else's block-tower.

None of it is what Taylor wants, and these would-be comforters quickly lose interest and wander away. At first, Taylor seems alone and miserable. “In the quiet, Taylor didn't even notice the rabbit. But it moved closer, and closer. Until Taylor could feel its warm body.”

The rabbit doesn't offer directions or advice. The rabbit doesn't urge shouting or revenge. The rabbit just listens to Taylor's frustration and disappointment and anger. The rabbit just listens, and soon enough Taylor is feeling balanced and happy again, ready to build an even more impressive castle.

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The message here is clear and so simple even the best-intentioned of friends and parents can overlook it. Doerrfeld chooses to emphasize that message by using the mildest and quietest of animals (although millions of dog and cat owners in the United States and around the world will immediately notice that their own listening and long-suffering best friends are nowhere to be found in these pages) – sometimes, just being there and listening is the best help possible.

Steve Donoghue was a founding editor of Open Letters Monthly. His book criticism has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and the American Conservative. He writes regularly for the National, the Washington Post, the Vineyard Gazette, and the Christian Science Monitor. His website is