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. "J.B.," she said, "you'll love my kids and they'll love you, and we'll all get to sit on our classroom carpet with individual squares marked for each letter of the alphabet."
How could I resist the possibility of claiming the "J" square, surrounded by 20 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, wiggled my fingers inside the puppet chapeau, and – voilà! – up popped a white-as-snow, grinning-up-to-his-giant-ears, fluffy, pink-nosed, bow-tie-wearing rabbit.
And then, much to everyone's surprise and delight, the rabbit spoke. "Do you want to pretend you're a magician?" he asked.
Although he sounded quite a bit like me, the girls and boys didn't care. "I do," one said. "Me, too." "Me first."
I must admit to being quite pleased with my newly discovered talent as a rabbit-puppet ventriloquist.
To anyone but a seasoned teacher, getting a group of excited 5- to 7-year-olds to take turns is as challenging and confusing as getting real bunnies to behave. But Regina announced, "Let's take turns alphabetically." Then she quickly added, "But first we have to name the rabbit."
Several cries of "Peter; let's call him Peter," resounded from the voters.
Katie suggested "Bunny-Bunny."
But it wasn't until Evan shouted, "The Rabbit in the Hat!" that we had our winner.
"We'll take turns holding The Rabbit in the Hat and pretending we're magicians," said Regina.
In an ironic turn of events, Zach's bottom had been covering the "A," so he went first. I showed him how to nestle his hand inside the puppet and his fingers inside the little arms to make the rabbit point and clap.
Zach stood and 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 his theory.
Belinda sat confidently upright. Rabbit on hand, she said, "I am Belinda, the Magic Girl. I can fly all around the world and make people smile."
One by one the children became magicians for a moment. Yvonne of the "Y" square was last. She gently glided her hand into the rabbit and snuggled his pink nose on the cheeks of youngsters in the surrounding squares. In a voice not above a whisper, she confided, "I am Yvonne. Friends are magical."
"Thank J.B. for coming to our classroom and reading to us," said Regina. I heard a chorus of "Thank you, J.B.," surrounding me in a 20-youngster giant hug.
Yvonne took the rabbit off her hand and gave it to me as though she was handing over her new best friend. The Rabbit in the Hat then said, in a voice not unlike my own, "I want to stay here with my new friends, so we can be magical together." Picture another giant hug and my exiting with a promise to come back another time.
A couple of weeks later, Regina's class invited me to an official ceremony to give me a volume titled "The Rabbit in the Hat." It was filled with crayoned artwork and insightful comments.
I treasure the book to this day, along with a second rabbit puppet who tempted me into buying and naming it Rabbit Hat Too.
He's my office buddy, reminding 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 a grownup willing to listen to his thoughts and dreams.
Perhaps it's just my imagination, but Rabbit Hat Too has a particularly self-satisfied grin on his furry face.