Mo Willems-Author/Illustrator Extraordinaire
What Dr. Seuss did for children’s literature in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Mo Willems is doing for a new generation of children of the 21st century, and (quite frankly) for the grownups who share these books with them! The first time I read “Trixie bawled. She went boneless.” in Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, I could only think of the countless times my children transformed themselves into virtual sacks of potatoes in resistance to any activity they were not interested in. And, if those words don’t make you laugh, just check out the accompanying illustrations!
Like Dr. Seuss, Willems is perhaps best known for his beginning reader books. In 2007, Elephant (also known as Gerald) and Piggie were introduced to the world of emerging readers in the book Today I Will Fly. Over the next 10 years, twenty-four more books were published, closing out the series with The Thank You book. Like a modern day Frog and Toad, these two friends are almost complete opposites. Gerald is shy, nervous, and cautious. Piggie is exuberant, carefree and reckless.
And yet, while they don’t always agree or understand each other, they are always loyal and supportive. In each story they work through an issue– jealousy, loneliness, lack of confidence, indecision, or one of many other small childhood dramas. Sounds grim and didactic, but there is not one iota of gloominess or preachiness in these whimsical stories. With a few simple words per page (told almost entirely in dialog) and cartoon-like yet expressive illustrations, Willems weaves simple tales of friendship full of warmth, humor and delight. Plus, they are so much fun to read aloud. Your kiddos will have you in stitches. Or vice versa.
Mo Willems genius doesn’t stop with Elephant and Piggie or Knuffle Bunny. He’s also got a Pigeon who wants to drive a bus, stay up late, and adopt a puppy but doesn’t want to take a bath or go to school. In the laugh-out-loud department they give the Elephant and Piggie books a run for their money.
There’s also Leonardo (a monster incapable of scaring anyone), a naked mole rat who wants to wear clothes, a dinosaur who doesn’t know she’s extinct and at least a dozen other quirky characters worth getting to know spread throughout his dozens of titles.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a bit of a fangirl of Mo’s. I was even lucky enough to meet him at a conference. He’s pretty serious in person but don’t let that stop you from getting to know his books. Once you start, you’ll be hooked. -Nancy Kellner