Mo Willems (not Williams…check the pronunciation here!) has been a favorite at our house before GirlChild was even born. (In fact, I chose to review Knuffle Bunny for a class in library school so that I had a good reason to purchase it for our baby’s library!) A former writer and animator for Sesame Street, Mr. Willems’ quirky humor has delighted small readers since at least 2003, when Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! was published (and was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2004). (If you view his bibliography in the FAQs on his webpage, you’ll notice credits for several comic books that are written earlier and for a presumably older crowd as well.) All that said, GirlChild and all her similarly aged cousins received a Scholastic Storybook Treasures DVD set for Christmas from my parents–Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Pals–and it reminded me that everyone should know about his work, so here is a Mo Willems themed Thursday for your enlightenment!
Knuffle Bunny series: Trixie is based on Willems’ real-life daughter, and these books are cute, realistic stories of a girl and her constant companion, Knuffle Bunny (and her mommy and daddy who love her). I cry at the end of every one, every time!
- Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2004)–When toddler Trixie and her daddy go on an errand to do laundry, Knuffle Bunny gets a little lost, Trixie’s daddy saves the day, and Trixie speaks her first words! This was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2005.
- Knuffle Bunny, Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity (2007)–Trixie experiences a disagreement and a mix-up with a classmate who has her own Knuffle Bunny (or K’nuffle Bunny)!
- Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion (2010)–Trixie loses Knuffle Bunny on an international flight to Holland to visit her grandparents, and after some time spent without her Knuffle Bunny, Trixie is able to make a hard decision that proves she’s growing up.
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (2003)–The bus driver entrusts the reader to keep the Pigeon from driving his bus while he’s away. The reader is expected to fill in the blanks of the conversation (the Pigeon and bus driver both address the reader directly) by interacting with the characters, so this is a fun read for small children (especially those who like to say, “NO!”). This was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2004.
- The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! (2005)–The Pigeon demonstrates his crazy emotions in this board book.
- The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? (2012)–The Pigeon is upset that the Duckling gets the cookie he asks for because the Pigeon NEVER gets what he asks for! Kids get a peek at the Pigeon learning about manners and being unselfish.
Cat the Cat books: Cat the Cat and her similarly named friends (like Duck the Duck and Sheep the Sheep) have repetitive fun with a twist as they encounter one another (and a lot of rhyme) through the pages of each book. Pages feature large, colorful pictures, one brief sentence, and an occasional speech bubble. Perfect for preschoolers and very early readers because of the picture clues and repetitive text.
- Cat the Cat, Who Is THAT? (2010)–Cat the Cat introduces us to several of her friends…and someone very different! Blarggie! Blarggie!
- Let’s Say Hi to Friends Who Fly! (2010)–Cat the Cat asks some of her friends if they can fly, even Rhino the Rhino…who has a surprising answer!
- Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep! (2010)–Cat the Cat and her friends get ready for a sleepover…and have an awkward encounter with Owl the Owl.
Elephant & Piggie books: This early reader series features cautious/worrywart Elephant Gerald and his mischievous friend Piggie (the Pig) who speak to each other (and us!) using color-coded speech bubbles and font clues for intonation. GirlChild LOVES these books and will sit and reread them (using the picture and font clues and what phonics she knows when she gets lost in the story) aloud to herself or to retell them to us (usually word-for-word) over and over again! (I think this may be the way she learns to read before kindergarten next year!)
- I Am Invited to a Party! (2007)–Piggie gets invited to her first party and asks her friend Gerald for advice about what to wear.
- We Are in a Book! (2010)–Piggie discovers that she and Gerald are in a book, and the two friends have some fun (and some concerns!) about interacting with their reader.
- Can I Play Too? (2010)–When Snake asks if he can join their game of catch, Gerald and Piggie have a hard time figuring out how to include him…until they decide they can play catch with their friend!
Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Pals: Complete Cartoon Collection Vol. 1 & 2 (Scholastic Storybook Treasures, 2012): Perfect for preschool and early elementary fans of Willems’, this two-DVD set features the familiar animation of the Storybook Treasures series and the art (and vocal talents) of Mo Willems. Includes Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, Leonardo the Terrible Monster, and Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed as well as read-alongs and interviews with Mr. Willems himself. (Jon Scieszka–one of my favorite quirky authors for kids!–stars as the voice of the bus driver, too!)
Leonardo, the Terrible Monster (2005): Leonardo is a terrible monster: he can’t scare anyone! When he thinks he’s finally found the perfect candidate for frightening and things don’t go as planned, Leonardo has a decision to make.
Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed (2009): Wilbur is a naked mole rat, and that’s how the other naked mole rats think it should stay…but Wilbur likes to dress up! What will Grand-pah mole rat have to say when Wilbur says, “Why not?” about getting dressed? A fun read for eliciting laughs and reminding children that different doesn’t mean bad! Elementary students will probably appreciate the book the most.
Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator! (2011): Amanda and her stuffed alligator have a lot of fun together, but Alligator frets about waiting when they’re apart (like when Amanda visits the library for one of the conspicuously unchildlike books she reads throughout the book or when she goes to the zoo with her grandfather). A new stuffed panda from Amanda’s grandfather really raises Alligator’s suspicions.
Time to Pee! (2003) and Time to Say “Please!” (2005): Time to Pee! is a cute and funny book to read with your recently potty-trained child to remind him or her of the steps to independent bathroom use. (No potty humor involved, and the book comes with a success chart and stickers!) Time to Say “Please!” is a book about manners and asking before you do something, but it is far from didactical. Children will enjoy looking at all the little mice and their crazy signs (where the text is located) by themselves as well!
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs (2012): I cackled aloud reading this take on the Goldilocks story. In it, the dinosaurs most certainly do not (*wink wink*) set a trap for a naughty and unsuspecting little girl with their chocolate pudding set on the counter to cool. Thankfully, the little girl comes to her senses in time to leave the dinosaurs still pining for their “delicious-chocolate-filled-little-girl-bonbon” treat. Probably for a slightly older crowd because of the wink-wink-nudge-nudge writing, I think middle elementary students would find this book a blast!
City Dog, Country Frog (2010): A decidedly different book by Willems (and illustrated by Jon J Muth), City Dog and Country Frog strike up a friendship that changes with the seasons. A sweet and spare book for sharing with preschoolers and early elementary children.
This is by far not an exhaustive bibliography of Mo Willems’ work (you can find that and a whole lot more on his website!), but this is a good sampling of some of his most famous series and works and gives you a taste of what kind of books he writes and illustrates. (Another bonus: a lot of his characters do cameos in his other books, and that’s a treat for any child who’s a fan!) Give him a try with your preschooler to elementary child!
(7/12/15 Update: Here’s a link to the Zena Sutherland lecture Mo Willems did back in 2011. Pretty awesome stuff for readers and writers to hear!)