I plan to use this space to periodically extol the virtues of my favorite children’s book authors. It was tough to decide who should be the first author featured, but I decided on author/illustrator Mo Willems. Prior to becoming an award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books, Willems was an Emmy award-winning writer for Sesame Street. As valuable as his contributions to children’s television were, we’re all fortunate that he switched gears and started writing books.
Mo Willems is a star in our school library and his books are always being circulated. I spend a few weeks with our pre-k students reading his humorous stories and talking about his delightful illustrations, beginning with one of the Pigeon books, moving on to Elephant and Piggie, a Knuffle Bunny story or two, and one of his wonderful stand-alone titles. If there’s time left at the end of the school year, we usually learn how to draw Willems’ celebrated Pigeon.
Willems’ stories are more than merely amusing. They have a wittiness to them that children and parents can enjoy together again and again. These stories are funny, and everyone gets it. But it goes beyond that. They are remarkably relatable stories. I wasn’t sure how 20 four-year-olds would react to the humor in this year’s stand-alone title, That Is Not a Good Idea. It’s a little more subtle than Willems’ other stories. Also, it’s designed in a style reminiscent of silent films, something with which children born in 2010 are completely unfamiliar. But, like everything Mo Willems touches, this was comedy gold!
The Pigeon is the king of Willems’ characters (for sheer volume of works, Elephant and Piggie could make a play for the crown).
If you ever read a Pigeon book aloud to a child you’ll know why; the audience gets to be part of the story. And not just a little part. They get to take control of the situation, to tell Pigeon what he can and can’t do. NO, you CAN’T drive the bus! YES, you MUST take a bath! NO, you CAN’T stay up late! Now, that’s power! What little kid wouldn’t enjoy that?
As much as I love Pigeon (and I really, really do), I have a parental soft spot for Knuffle Bunny. The joys and sorrows of a little girl named Trixie and her plush-toy best friend bring back memories (flashbacks?) of our youngest and her baby doll – simply named Baby – being lost, cried over, found, brought on vacations, made part of a wedding, and so on. The bond between a kid and his or her first best friend is strong, and Willems demonstrates that beautifully. His signature cartoon-style illustrations are nicely balanced by the photo backdrops on each page.
Of his 45+ books, perhaps my favorite is a stand-alone, Leonardo the Terrible Monster. Willems’ signature muted colors are especially impactful with the larger-than-normal illustrations, and the old-fashioned lettering is a clever touch. Most of all, the story is brilliant.
It’s the laugh-out-loud funny tale of a monster who can’t seem to scare anyone. But it’s also a touching story of friendship. It’s an awesome read-aloud that I first shared with students many years ago. Those kids are well into high school now, but I still try to fit it in with my kindergarteners every year. I never get tired of sharing this story.
While on a recent visit to Atlanta to see the World’s Cutest Baby Niece (and her lovely parents, my brother and sister-in-law), my husband indulged me in a busman’s holiday by taking me to see Seriously Silly! The art & whimsy of Mo Willems at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. If you find yourself anywhere near Atlanta before January 10, 2016, go see it. It’s fun and charming, even if you don’t have small children with you. If you do, though, it has some cool activities to accompany the exhibit. And, of course, lots of great stuff in the museum gift shop!
Willems’ is branching out into chapter books. He’s teamed up with Tony DiTerlizzi and they’ll be releasing The Story of Diva and Flea on October 13, 2015. It’s great that little-readers-turned-middle-readers will have an opportunity to get mo’ Mo! Our school library’s copy is already on pre-order. I’ll let you know what I think once I’ve finished it.
Until next time, keep reading!