Posts tagged ‘picture books’

Review: I Am Going! by Mo Willems

The cover of Mo Willems's book I AM GOING! from the Elephant and Piggie series

I’ve written before about my love for Mo Willems and I finally got to the top of the holds list at my local public library for the latest in his Elephant and Piggie series, I AM GOING!. It’s currently #8 on the New York Times Children’s Book Bestsellers List; Willems also holds spots #5 and #7 for CAT THE CAT, WHO IS THAT? and LET’S SAY HI TO FRIENDS WHO FLY!, respectively.

Willems’s sense of body language and facial expressions are once again spot-on: with a restricted vocabulary, so much is conveyed through an arched eyebrow or a tilted ear, and there’s a lot of humor Piggie being flipped upside-down by Gerald’s outbursts. And I love the humor in the details with Piggie’s watch existing only when she needs to check the time and the Pigeon’s cameo on Gerald’s silly hat and the Piggie-themed calendar (I’d buy that!).

The book also touches on a lot of developmentally appropriate ideas and literacy concepts. When Gerald is trying to persuade Piggie to leave later, he asks in specific increments of time of increasing size (tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year). Readers learn that tiny text in a big bubble means whispering or whimpering, and are exposed to italicized words along with their non-emphasized counterparts (“Why? Why? Why? Why?“). Adding “Who will I skip with?”, “Who will I play Ping-Pong with?” and “Who will I wear a silly hat with?” becomes “WHO WILL I SKIP AND PLAY PING-PONG IN A SILLY HAT WITH?!?!”

But I have to admit that this isn’t my favorite of the Elephant and Piggie books. (That would probably be THERE IS A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD! or ARE YOU READY TO PLAY OUTSIDE? or maybe even I WILL SURPRISE MY FRIEND!) It seems like the book focuses too much on the build-up to the twist, and the dialog is fairly one-sided (which was especially evident when Brittany and I read the book aloud to Erin during lunch).

Don’t get me wrong, though. Mo Willems’s books, even the ones that aren’t his best, are still at the top of the heap when it comes to children’s books. This entire series is a must-have for any library with beginning readers for their story and humor, which appeal to children and grown-ups alike.

(Have I mentioned how totally hilarious I find it that @The_Pigeon follows both @ChicagoHotDog and @GreyhoundBus?)

March 9, 2010 at 11:12 PM Leave a comment

Getting to Know Mo Willems

I recently watched Getting to Know Mo Willems, a short video by Scholastic and Weston Woods about Mo Willems and his work. Last spring I wrote a short paper about Mo Willems for my Materials for Youth class and I’ve read all of his books, so it was fun to get more insight into his creative process and to see him drawing and to see the little sketch book out of which the Pigeon grew.

When he was talking about the art for the Knuffle Bunny books, I thought it was interesting that he took photographs of his neighborhood but then edited them to take out the trash cans and the air conditioners and to replace missing letters on signs. He said that he didn’t want the photographs to reflect how places actually look, but how they felt–and I think that’s one of the strengths of those books, how well they capture a sense of place.

I think the thing I love most about Mo Willems’s books are his characters’ facial expressions and body language. In the Pigeon books, so much is conveyed just with a raised eyebrow or a lowered lid. And especially in the Elephant and Piggie books where the vocabulary is so limited, so much of the narrative relies on what the illustrations convey. Piggie and Gerald look excited, exasperated, dubious, frightened, and gleeful all with a few small changes in pencil strokes.

In the video, Mo talks a little bit about how the Elephant and Piggie books are just plain fun to draw, but that he also really enjoys the challenge of writing Easy Reader books with fixed vocabularies of about 50 words. In fact, his first Geisel Award acceptance speech (read a blog post with the speech or just read the speech) is done with a limited vocabulary and simple grammar and hints at the difficulties in writing an Easy Reader book, but also shows how you can still be clever within those constraints.

My first week at the synagogue I was surprised by a group of preschoolers who had arrived for a storytime I didn’t know I was going to be giving. Still pretty unfamiliar with the collection, I grabbed two of the Pigeon books off of the shelf and read them with total abandon, yelling and gesturing and whispering and fake-crying. The kids totally loved it, and I think the teachers were impressed with the new librarian’s enthusiasm. I’ve grown to know the collection better in the months I’ve worked there, but I can always count on Mo to captivate an audience of otherwise wiggly kids.

I was lucky enough to meet Mo at ALA last summer (I was the first in line!) and have him sign a few of my books. Honestly, I was a little giddy finally getting to meet the man behind the best books I’d read in years–and that experience really impressed upon me how connecting with authors (and illustrators) through author visits or even Skype can be so inspiring for kids of all ages and can intensify their love for what they’re reading. It’s really important for me to be able to take that great experience I was lucky enough to have as an up-and-coming professional at a conference and find a way to give it to the young people I’m hoping to serve because man, meeting Mo (and MT Anderson, too) was the highlight of my ALA Annual experience.

For more Mo, check out Mo Willems’s website, his doodles blog, or follow the Pigeon on Twitter.

February 12, 2010 at 4:37 PM Leave a comment