It’s National Bat Appreciation Day and I Have The Perfect Picture Book To Celebrate!!! It’s “Rufus” by Tomi Ungerer.
To a certain extent we all are who we are and know what we know. Until we don’t. We are all “becoming.” People, events, impressions combine to shape us and change us, to some degree, for good or ill…depending on our perspective.
But, in the end, we should accept who we are, and embrace the wonderful thing that is the “self.”
The world struggles with this. And children especially are being shaped and are becoming their best selves; we hope and pray.
And so, as acclaimed picture book author, Tomie de Paola, reminded me today, April 17, is National Bat Appreciation Day!
But which BAT are we celebrating? Those made of wood or the animal kind? I celebrate both, but for today, it’s the animal kind. And today, it’s the picture book called “Rufus” by Tomi Ungerer.
Tomi Ungerer, who recently passed, is a favorite picture book author, not only of mine but of millions of other readers of books for the youngest among us. He is the recipient of the coveted and prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award for his work in children’s literature.
His art, coupled with a very unique take on the world of childhood that is a combination of savvy and sensitive, makes his books truly unique.
And so we come to Rufus, a bat that hangs upside down during the day, and sleeps, as you would imagine, in a cave.
At night he hunts, and one propitious night, depending on how you look at things, he sees a drive-in movie (the book was written in 1980), and Rufus is gobsmacked by the COLORS. Remember, previously, he has seen ONLY the gray and black and white world of night flying.
He thought it would be nice to see the day with all its beautiful colors, So instead of going to sleep when morning came, he stayed awake. The Sun cam up and Rufus watched with enthusiasm.
A world of color opens before Rufus’ eyes as he spies birds and flowers, and, by comparison, he sees HIMSELF in his lack of color, as, well, DULL. And he decides to DO something about it. Coming upon a “palette of paints,” Rufus transforms himself into a bat of many colors:
He painted his ears pink, his hooks blue, his feet violet, and drew a big green star on his stomach.
Then he proudly took off into the sunlight.
And what flows from this is a bit of a life lesson, not only for Rufus, but for the reader. The world is not always a kind place when it comes upon something previously unseen and unique.
In point of fact it can be violent and cruel, because of fear. And so, Rufus finds this out.
But Rufus, through the ministrations of a kindly Dr. Tarturo, by chance a famous butterfly expert, Rufus’ wounds are tended to…both outside and in.
With the exposure to sunlight has advantages of seeing new things, Rufus soon realizes that “the sun hurt his eyes and he had to wear dark glasses and swallow pills for his headaches.”
Rufus upon watching a black and white TV show alongside Dr. Tarturo, discovers something. He is homesick for his cave.
But Dr. Tarturo and Rufus remained good friends. Often, after the sun had gone down, Rufus would visit Dr. Tarturo and hunt night moths for his collection. This made them both very happy.
I love Tomi Ungerer’s art and his subtle picture book messages to children about life. Sometimes we venture outside of our comfort zones to experience new things. And with these new experiences, sometimes find a combination of outcomes… with some to our liking and some not.
But, on the whole, we must try and stay true to who we are and not be afraid to venture outside into the world…though it can, at times, be BOTH cruel, but mostly KIND.
And he is unapologetic for this pulling aside of the curtain.
His use of vocabulary is also not watered down, with use of words such as:
“Rufus” is a wonderful picture book to celebrate National Bat Appreciation Day, as it celebrates both Tomi and his creation named Rufus, who knows two important things:
Rufus is not afraid to fly both high into the light of day, but knows when to come home.
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