The time has come for kindergartners and their folks to begin, celebrate and conquer their fears of the new school term.
Once upon a time I met a rabbit puppet who popped out of a magician’s hat. My bunny encounter began when my friend Regina, a kindergarten teacher, invited me to read to her students. “JB,” she said, “you’ll love my kids, and they’ll love you. We’ll all sit on our classroom carpet with its individual squares marked for each letter of the alphabet.”
How could I resist the possibility of claiming the “J” square, surrounded by 23 kids wriggling, giggling and listening to me read from Regina’s favorite book, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”?
Not wanting to go empty-handed into the classroom, I stopped by a toy store, fell in love with a rabbit puppet and took him to school. He hid inside his black felt magician’s hat until after story time, when I literally closed the book on Peter’s adventures and wiggled my fingers inside his chapeau. Voila! Up popped a white-as-snow, grinning-up-to-his-giant-ears, fluffy, pink-nosed, bow-tie-wearing rabbit.
Then, much to the kids’ surprise and delight, the rabbit asked, “Do you want to pretend you’re a magician?” Although the rabbit sounded like me, the girls and boys didn’t care. “I do,” one said. “Me, too.” “Me first.”
To anyone but a seasoned teacher, getting a group of excited 5- and 6-year-olds to take turns is as challenging and confusing as getting real bunnies to behave. But Regina announced, “Let’s take turns alphabetically by name.” She quickly added, “But first, let’s name the rabbit.”
Several cries of “Peter. Let’s call him Peter,” resounded from the voters. Katie suggested Bunny-Bunny. When Zach shouted Rabbit in the Hat, we had our winner.
“We’ll take turns holding Rabbit in the Hat and pretending we’re magicians,” said Regina.
In an ironic turn of events, Zach’s bottom covered the carpet’s “A,” so he went first. I showed him how to nestle his hand inside the puppet with his fingers moving to point and clap. Zach announced, “I am Zach the Magical. When I point the rabbit at my dad, he will become a rabbit, too.” Fortunately, Zach’s dad wasn’t in the room for us to test this trick.
Beth sat confidently upright. Rabbit on hand, she said, “I am Belinda, the Magic Girl. I fly around the world and make people smile.” Each child became a magician. Yvonne of the “Y” square was last. She snuggled the Rabbit’s pink nose on the cheeks of nearby classmates, and whispered, “I am Yvonne. Friends are magical.”
“Thank JB for coming to our classroom and reading to us,” said Regina. I heard a chorus of “Thank you, JB,” as the kids surrounded me with a giant hug. Yvonne looked so sad when she gave me the puppet. In a voice similar to mine, he said, “I want to stay here and be magical with my new friends.” I left, sans puppet, promising to come back soon.
Two weeks later, Regina’s kindergartners invited me to an official ceremony and gave me a book titled “The Rabbit in the Hat,” filled with crayoned artwork and magical ideas. I treasure the book, along with a second rabbit puppet I bought and named Rabbit Hat Too.
He reminds me that magic for a child requires more than a puppet. It’s magical for a child to know that he is among friends, including grownups happy to listen to his thoughts and dreams. Perhaps it’s just my imagination, but Rabbit Hat Too has a very self-satisfied bunny grin on his furry face.
JB Shelton-Spurr is a Raleigh journalist and author of “Angel in Your Mirror: Musings from the Curly Mind of of JB Shelton-Spurr.”