Today’s the day to meet Rabbit and Robot’s new friend: RIBBIT!
(I’m thrilled to say that these three friends have earned a Junior Library Guild pin, too. That’s always a good sign, I think.)
Anyway, this is the second book in the Rabbit & Robot series. And it represents one of those nifty writing experiences that I’ve had now and then, in which I discover that I had been writing from my own life, but only after I actually finish working on the book.
A little back story: After El Deafo came out, überlibrarian Betsy Bird pointed out that the first book in the series (Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover) seemed autobiographical to her. (She was right in some ways—I had initially modeled Rabbit on someone else, but while working on the book realized that the high-strung, anxious Rabbit is pretty darn close to me.) Betsy used her crazy-good comp-lit skills and suggested that my personal connection to the book went even further. She pointed out that while Rabbit might represent me (I’m a rabbit in El Deafo, after all), perhaps the problem-solving Robot might represent the Phonic Ear, my clunky hearing aid from elementary school. I think Betsy was right! Robot drives Rabbit crazy but ultimately helps him out; my Phonic Ear drove me crazy, but ultimately helped me out. A lot.)
So back to the new book, Rabbit and Robot and Ribbit. I was definitely more aware of modeling Rabbit after myself while writing this one. But I wasn’t thinking that hard about it. In this story, Rabbit invites himself over to Robot’s house, and is very upset to find that Robot is entertaining a new friend—a frog named Ribbit. I was only thinking about being funny when I decided that all Ribbit would say throughout the book is “ribbit.”
(Guess who doesn’t have a degree in Photography…)
Only later did I realize that even this is kind of autobiographical. You see, Robot can understand Rabbit, because he has the technology to translate every “ribbit” Ribbit says into English. Rabbit doesn’t have that technology. When Ribbit says “ribbit,” all Rabbit can hear is “ribbit.” Robot shares his translations of what Ribbit says with Rabbit (much like my hearing aids try to translate the sounds I hear into speech), but often those translations come too late for Rabbit. The frustration that Rabbit experiences from being jealous is compounded by his not being able to understand the communication between Robot and Ribbit. This book is acutely close to what my experiences of being in a group are like. Lip reading is hard work, and I often can’t keep up with more than one person at a time—and so I quickly lose the thread of many conversations, miss the joke, fake the laugh. Basically, it sounds like everyone in my life is saying “RIBBIT”! And just like Rabbit, I get jealous of the connections that people make that I sometimes am unable to make.
I like retroactively discovering that some of my books are autobiographical. Maybe I am writing what I know, and writing from experience—even when it might not seem like that’s what I’m doing at all.
I hope you’ll check out the book. Maybe you’ll think about the many interesting ways we try to communicate in this world in our efforts to connect—and why it’s so important that we do connect.
Look for this poster in Robot’s bedroom. Robot likes the Beatles! Just like me!