Thursday 3 May 2012

Reasons we LOVE Mo Willems! (Part 1)

To celebrate the hilarious
new picture book Duckling Gets a Cookie, our very own picture book editor Maria Tunney reveals a few of the many reasons why the world just can't get enough of the wonderful Mo Willems! 

What is it about Mo Willems’ books that really hit the spot? That makes us giggle and point and hug the page with glee? (And this is just the grown-ups.) Across the board, Mo Willems has consistently created titles that connect with all ages; they fizz and sparkle with humour and emotion, firmly establishing themselves as book shelf staples in shops, libraries, schools and homes. With the latest of his Pigeon books Duckling Gets a Cookie!? publishing TODAY in the UK, here are a few of the reasons (there are MANY more) why we in the picture book team LOVE Mo Willems:


You say “crazy pigeon”, we say “Mo Willems”. The Pigeon series (five in total) began with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and made Mo into a children’s literature rock star, earning him a prestigious Caldecott honour and a place at the top of several bestseller lists. These titles have spawned a very popular app, an activity book, board books, stuffed toys…

But what is so great about a pigeon? Well, this pigeon has FEELINGS. A LOT of feelings. In fact, in many of the pigeon books, the Pigeon expresses a whole spectrum of raw emotions − confusion, anger, defiance, sweetness, total rage, sorrow − all on one spread. With his huge eyeball, big round head and wings that are somehow totally simplistic in drawing and yet utterly expressive (he curls them into angry fists, he places his wing on his heart in plaintiveness, he drops them to his side in play-innocence), Mo’s Pigeon encompasses all the melodrama that most 4 years olds and adults (hey, we’ve all had stroppy moments) muster on a daily occasion.

Critics have said that Mo, as a writer and an illustrator, “understands the human condition” and the Pigeon books are a prime example. When refused a puppy in The Pigeon Wants a Puppy, the Pigeon says “Oh … I get it. You don’t want me to be happy, do you? You don’t want me to take a piggyback ride on my puppy!” Hands up if you can relate? We’ve all wondered why we didn’t get something and felt angry about it! There is great truth in these books and that is why we really love the pigeon.

 Elephant and Piggie

They have been described as the Vladimir and Estragon of children’s literature and the comparison to two of Beckett’s most celebrated stage characters is very apt indeed. The Elephant and Piggie books celebrate Mo’s love of dialogue and, without a doubt, have a touch of the absurd about them. They get themselves into absurd situations (Gerald: There is a bird on my head? Aaaaaaaaagghhh!!! Piggie: Now there are two birds. They are in love!) and each character approaches them with varying attitudes. Gerald evaluates the situation with a sceptical look and makes cautious suggestions; as Mo describes him, he’s “the glass is half full of poison kind of guy.” Piggie, on the other hand, GOES for it full throttle:

Piggie: Today I will fly!
Gerald: No. You will not fly today.
You will not fly tomorrow. You will not fly next week.
Piggie: I will try. Goodbye.

These books are hilarious. They make for the funniest read alouds and are the perfect chapter books for a little child who has just begun to read by themselves or for an adult to read to a child, laughing all along the way. 

If that isn't enough, Maria has three more reasons to pick up a Mo Willems book, coming up in part 2 of her post next week! Stay tuned...