Hold up! Navigating through my archives here, I am blown away to find that I have never reviewed a Mo Willems story. He is one of our favourite bedtime story authors, making many of my picture book lists including, Halloween books, back to school books, and even Zyler’s birthday top 5. What happened? How have I gone this long without featuring one of the biggest names in Kidlit today? Well I am going to remedy that right now with a complete author spotlight!
American author Mo Willems began his writing career working on the long running TV series, maybe you’ve heard of it, Sesame Street. From 1993 to 2002, Willems earned six Emmy awards for his work on the show. He also worked on many animated shows such as, Sheep in the Big City, and Codename: Kids Next Door. In ‘003, Willems walked away from television to pursue his own writing career!
Debut picture book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, was an instant success. Earning the Caldecott Honour, New York Times reffered to Willems as “the biggest new talent to emerge in the 00’s” and Pigeon has become an iconic character for a new generation. Since then the awards have racked up, with two more Caldecott Honours, a series of Theodore Seuss Geisel medals and honours, Goodreads Choice awards, and even a couple Carnegie Medal’s. Willems has had one of, if not, the most successful career in children’s books over the last 15 years.
What makes Mo Willems such a natural talent at entertaining children? If you have ever read a Mo Willems story you will notice he has a different approach than many other authors. He treats his young audience with respect, and intelligence. There is no dumbing things down, silly rhyming, big colour splashes, or explaining his morals. His works are direct, and offer the children the opportunity to answer their own feelings and questions. Children can watch Willems’s characters make mistakes and bad choices and they feel smarter and confident for seeing the errors. It is a refreshing approach to see as a parent, who believes in treating children like they are as smart as we are, and allowing them to ask the questions. Especially coming from a generation of Berenstien Bear books that shoved information and answers down our face. Instead of telling kids not to talk to strangers, Willems will have his character ask them if it is a good idea. Giving the strength and confidence to the children themselves.
Another source of Willems’ success is due to his natural, real world humour. Much has gone the way of children’s literature in the last couple decades, in which humour is injected not forcefully, but in a smooth adult manner. Where if you pay attention to the story the situational humour will stand out. Instead of popping in silly words or bad puns. Another example of Willems treating his audience with a mature respect.
Mo Willems bibliography is an ever growing batch of great characters and relevent morals. The Pigeon series alone features nine books now, with him making a cameo in majority of Willems stories. Another popular series, Elephant and Piggie is growing from its 25 book library. There are many great stand alones in the Willems collection as well, a few of our favourites include, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, This is NOT a Good Idea, Leonardo the Terrible Monster, Time to Pee, and of course Time to Say “Please”, among others. His latest series is also taking of in a big way, Cat the Cat.
All the awards, the success, the sales, and the recognition, are all well deserved. As a parent who has read majority of his books, I can honestly say I have never been disappointed. His books are not only entertaining for the sprouts, but I love when we find a new Willems tale. I cannot help but read these books in silly voices and often the entire family will crack up at some of the clever jokes. I highly recommend adding some Mo Willems books to your children’s library, for bed time, an afternoon break, or to help them learn to read. Mo Willems is an author that our children will grow up thinking fond memories of, the way we admire someone like Dr. Seuss.
Thanks booknerds, remember, don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!