Have you been to Sesame Street? Mo Willems has. He worked as the writer and animator for Sesame Street for nine years. During this time he won six Emmy awards for his writing. Mo Willems didn't stop earning awards there. He has been awarded Caldecott Honor Awards for a few of my favorite books: Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity. His Elephant and Piggie books have also won a few Theodor Seuss Geisel Awards. Well enough bragging, I just wanted to make the point that he is not only my favorite author!
As you can see on my picture book list, I have many Mo Willems books. Although I would love to finish my collection of his books completely. I want to talk about a few and hopefully persuade you to check out some of his fabulous books!
Lets start with Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, a contemporary realistic picture book. It is about a little girl named Trixie who loses her prized possession, a stuffed rabbit, named Knuffle Bunny. Note: the rabbit's name is said "Kuh-nuffle Bunny" not "Nuffle Bunny" like it should be pronounced. My children's literature teacher who has met Mo Willems told our class that, also on page 11 of Knuffle Bunny Too Trixie is arguing with a classmate about the right pronunciation of her bunny's name. Sorry to go off on a rant about this but I have heard it mispronounced too many times in the school setting. Anyways, the illustrations (also done by Willems) in this book as well as the other two Knuffle Bunny books are very unique and eye catching. The characters are cartoon-like characters in color and they are presented against a black and white photographed background. Mo Willems also puts certain items in color, such as the laundry basket and the laundry. This makes those items really stand out, which gives the reader a sense of the important items in the story (helpful for pointing out important details to young readers). The characters and objects that are in color convey a mood full of energy and emotion. When Trixie realized that she doesn’t have her Knuffle Bunny on the way home from the Laundromat, she throws a fit. Her father is embarrassed and irritated, and his expressions show it. Meanwhile, Trixie is talking, baby talk. Her father doesn’t understand what she wants until he arrives home and the Trixie's mother asks where Knuffle Bunny is. At this point, they run back to the Laundromat and find Knuffle Bunny. Trixie is so happy that she says her first word, Knuffle Bunny!. Mo Willems really captures the livelihood of a young girl who loves something dearly. Readers can recognize the feelings that Trixie has when she lost her Knuffle Bunny as similar to theirs when they lose something that is important to them. I recently did an activity with this book in my Teaching Language Arts class. We used book bits to retell the story. My professor copied many pages from the book and as a class we had to try to arrange the story events using the illustrations. It was a really fun activity that can be done in any grade level with any picture book.
The Pigeon Series
Mo Willems went in a very different direction with the Pigeon series. This series of books are fanciful fiction. These stories include a talking pigeon that has human emotions and problems. The illustrations are simple. Willems uses thick lined drawings against a blank background . When the Pigeon gets irritated, the reader knows it.
In Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! the Pigeon's eyes turn red as he screams "LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!!!". His feathers fly everywhere, and the reader can't help but laugh. The simple drawing of the Pigeon on a bare background really makes the reader concentrate on the words that this humorous pigeon is saying. In this series of books, Mo Willems does something very special. He makes the reader part of the book dialogue. For instance, in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! the bus driver asks the reader at the beginning of the book to watch things for him while he is gone. He also wants us to remember not to let the Pigeon drive the bus. Throughout this story, the Pigeon is begging the reader to let him drive the bus. This book gets the reader involved in such a great way. The reader wants to yell back at this comical pigeon. The Pigeon is very convincing and realistically amusing.
In Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! the Pigeon is trying to convince the reader to let him stay up late. After all the begging, the Pigeon gets quite tired and fall asleep. This is another very witty book by Mo Willems. This book also has the same kind of page where the Pigeon sort of freaks out and yells “I’M NOT TIRED!”.
Another great book in the Pigeon series is The Pigeon Wants a Puppy!. This time the Pigeon is trying to persuade the reader to buy him a puppy, his dream pet. In the end of the story the Pigeon realizes that a puppy may not really be his dream pet, even after all the arguing with the reader. A puppy is too much work. Many of our students may experience the same thing after getting a pet that they thought they wanted.
All of the books in this series really relate to children. These books are so much fun; they make the reader a part of the story. The Pigeon character acts a lot like a young child when they want something. All of the persuading, convincing, and yelling seem very familiar to how I have observed children (students) acting. The theme in these books is creativity and problem solving. The Pigeon will do and say whatever is necessary to get what he wants!
For a good laugh please read some of Mo Willems' books, not only to your students but also to yourself!