Willems, Mo 1968–
American short-story writer, travel writer, and author and illustrator of picture books and board books.
The following entry presents an overview of Willems's career through 2005.
A two-time Caldecott Honor Book winner, Willems has earned the rare accolades of a seasoned professional in his brief career as a picture book author and illustrator by combining an intuitive understanding of child-speak with a gently witty sense of humor. Before becoming a published children's writer, Willems had an extensive background as both a writer and animator for such noted juvenile television series as Sesame Street, Codename: Kids Next Door, and Sheep in the Big City. While still a relatively new face in the world of children's literature, Willems has already established a sterling resume with several of his picture books reaching the New York Times best seller's list as well as his Caldecott Honor Awards for Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (2003) and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2004). Often described as using retro or minimalist illustrative styles, his books feature a sprightly narrative voice that encourages active reader participation, demonstrating an impressive variability in plot and appearance.
The only child of Dutch immigrants, Willems was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1968. His father, Casey, was a stay-at-home dad who quit his job to become a potter, while his mother, Constance, worked as a lawyer. While still in school at Isidore Newman High School, Willems began drawing a comic strip for a regional real estate weekly and doing stand-up comedy at a local club. After graduating from high school, he moved to New York City to study animation at New York University's Tisch School for the Arts, where he produced several short films that were shown at various animated festivals around the country. Upon his graduation in 1990, he went on a year-long backpacking trip that took him around the world. In 2006 Willems published a cartoon memoir of this trip titled You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons: The World on One Cartoon a Day. Returning to the United States, he worked a variety of jobs in the New York area, including employment as an animator, radio commentator, ceramicist, and bubble gum card painter. While working as an illustrator for the Children's Television Network, he was invited to audition as a writer for the venerable children's program Sesame Street. Willems began writing and producing short films for the series, most notably the "Suze Kabloozie" shorts for which he won several Emmy Awards over the course of his decade-long career there. While working at Sesame Street, Willems also created two original children's cartoons on other networks: The Off-Beats on Nickelodeon and Sheep in the Big City for the Cartoon Network. In the spring of 2003, Willems released his first picture book, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, which became a critical and popular success, prompting the New York Times to call him "the biggest new talent to emerge thus far in the 00's." Now primarily a children's book author, Willems continues to demonstrate his versatility as an artist with displays of his artwork and sculpture appearing in several galleries and museums, including the Museum of Television and Radio and the Chicago Art Institute. Further, he continues to work in film and has over one-hundred short films and television half-hours to his credit, several of which have appeared on networks like MTV, HBO, and IFC. He has also collaborated with his father on a series of wire sculptures for a show in the SoHo section of New York City. In 1997 he married Cheryl Lynn Camp, a production manager for television commercials, and together they have one daughter, Anna Beatrix Willems.
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Willems's first picture book, introduced the compelling character of the Pigeon, a dynamic, mischievous little bird who speaks directly to the young readers. Primarily created using a "crumbly permanent crayon and then digitally coloring on the computer," Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! is a charged experience in reader participation. A bus driver conspiratorially instructs the reading audience that while he's away, they must not let a heretofore unseen pigeon anywhere near the steering wheel of his bus. After he leaves, a very distinct bird appears, desperately wanting to do just that. Like a small petulant child, the Pigeon connives, tempts, and playfully offers to share the driving privileges (so long as he gets to go first). But each time he asks, the reader intuitively knows what the answer is and is encouraged to tell the bird in no uncertain terms, "No!" Before long, the poor figure dissolves into a dramatically entertaining tantrum, until he sees a passing truck which suddenly captivates his short, wayward attention span. For his next picture book, Willems produced the instructional tome Time to Pee! (2003), in which a Greek chorus of helpful mice demonstrate basic toilet-training for preschool audiences. The author returned to his self-help picture book series in 2005 with Time to Say Please!, a narrative that encourages children to use proper manners. While the mice return as the main characters in Time to Say Please!, the volume also features several artistic cameos, such as the Pigeon and a cartoon version of Willems himself. In 2004 Willems released Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, his second Caldecott Honor Book. Pronounced "Kuh-nuffle" Bunny (after the Dutch word for "hug" or "snuggle"), it begins with a mildly flustered father taking his daughter Trixie and her favorite toy to the neighborhood Laundromat. On the way home, the little girl desperately tries to indicate to her father that she has left her prized stuffed animal—the Knuffle Bunny—behind, but her father cannot understand her non-verbal cues. Thinking she is having a tantrum, the father takes Trixie home only to have his sharp-eyed wife immediately notice the bunny's absence. Husband and wife immediately rush to the laundry to get the missing toy, weathering the dark looks of their aggrieved daughter. Artistically, the book differs significantly from Willems's previous works. The cartoon-like images of Trixie and her father are superimposed over digitally-altered photographs of Willems's real-life neighborhood in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, New York.
Willems followed Knuffle Bunny with The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! (2004), a sequel to his highly successful inaugural picture book. However, in this tale, the tables are turned on the Pigeon, who finds himself endlessly bothered by an antagonistically resilient duckling who wants a bite of a hot dog that the Pigeon finds on the street. There have subsequently been three more "Pigeon" picture books—The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! (2005), The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! (2005), and Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! (2006). Feelings and Things That Go! are both board books, targeted at preschool audiences. Feelings acts as a primer on basic emotions, with the bus driver trying to get the Pigeon to smile, while words like "happy," "sad," and "angry" are associated with their corresponding facial expressions. In Things That Go!, the Pigeon tells the readers about his favorite modes of transportation with illustrations of planes, trains, and automobiles. Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! returns to the picture book format of the original "Pigeon" book and presents a similar storyline—the bus driver asks the readers to make sure that the Pigeon doesn't stay up past his bedtime. In 2005 Willems penned Leonardo, the Terrible Monster in which the word "Terrible" is more indicative of Leonardo's inability to scare children rather than his supposed fearsomeness. A small bookish monster, Leonardo is a failure compared to the other monsters he introduces to the readers, such as Tony who has "1,642 teeth∗ (∗note: not all teeth shown)." Striving to become the "terrible" monster he always dreamed of, Leonardo decides to seek out the most timid child in the whole world and scare him. To that end, he finds Sam. who succumbs to a tear-stained breakdown upon meeting the little monster. Leonardo finally believes himself to be a success, but upon further investigation, the monster realizes that he is not responsible for the tears. Sam tells him in explicit detail about his miserable day, which includes a litany of small disasters, not the least of which involves Sam's mean older brother. Realizing that he does not have the desire to scare children, Leonardo decides he would rather be Sam's friend and tries to comfort the small boy.
Critics have noted that Willems's extensive background in both animation art and comedic writing for children's programming has made him particularly well-suited for crafting engaging visual narratives for young readers. Many have applauded the level of characterization that Willems has been able to evoke from his deceptively simplistic illustrative style. Gillian Engberg has argued that, in Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, "each page has the feel of a perfectly frozen frame of cartoon footage—action, remarkable expression, and wild humor captured within just a few lines." A vast majority of critics have embraced Willems's "Pigeon" picture books, though most have stated that the original Drive the Bus! remains the best of the series. In her review of The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, Claire Dederer has asserted that the story "features the same great, sassy dialogue, the same satisfyingly clean drawing style, even the same hilarious freakout page where the pigeon just can't take it anymore. These pleasures are substantial, and should not be discounted just because the first book was even better." Similarly, Knuffle Bunny has received a generous reception from reviewers, with Jennifer Mattson calling the volume a "comic gem" and stating that Willems "has just as clear a bead on pre-verbal children as on silver-tongued preschoolers."
While working in the television industry, Willems won six Emmy Awards for writing for Sesame Street between 1995 and 2001 as well as several ASIFA-East Awards for the "Suzie Kabloozie" shorts on Sesame Street. In addition to winning the Caldecott Honor Award for Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Knuffle Bunny, Willems has also been honored as a NAPPA Gold medalist for Time to Pee! Leonardo, the Terrible Monster was named one of Time Magazine's 10 Best Children's Books for 2005 and a Book Sense Book of the Year Honor Book in 2006.
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (picture book) 2003
Time to Pee! (picture book) 2003
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (picture book) 2004
The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! (picture book) 2004
Every Man for Himself: Ten Short Stories about Being a Guy [contributor; edited by Nancy E. Mercado] (short stories) 2005
Leonardo, the Terrible Monster (picture book) 2005
The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! (board book) 2005
The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! (board book) 2005
Time to Say Please! (picture book) 2005
Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! (picture book) 2006
You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons: The World on One Cartoon a Day (cartoons and travel writing) 2006
Mo Willems and Susan Spencer Cramer (interview date 21 February 2005)
SOURCE: Willems, Mo, and Susan Spencer Cramer. "Making Failure Funny." Publishers Weekly 252, no. 8 (21 February 2005): 153.
[In the following interview, Willems discusses his career as a writer and illustrator, his opinions about the picture book genre, and the importance of the simplistic design scheme he employs in his works.]
In his 37 years, Mo Willems has been a stand-up comedian, an artist, a global traveler, an animator for television, a filmmaker and a writer of patter for Cookie Monster and Grover.
It's all been a warm-up for Willems's latest incarnation as a children's book writer and illustrator, and his newest career has paid off handsomely in the past year. Although he's published only four picture books, two have garnered Caldecott Honor awards. In 2003, Willems won for Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Hyperion), which featured a determined bird who tries to convince young readers to let him take the wheel. And last month, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (Hyperion, 2004) was recognized by the Caldecott committee for its fresh illustrative technique: Willems superimposed cartoon characters (based on his own family) atop black-and-white photography of Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood. The story, of a toddler's beloved stuffed animal gone missing during a routine trip to the Laundromat, is both witty and insightful.
Willems downplays his accolades, insisting that winning awards is far from his mind when he works. "Consciously, all I want to do is make sure that all my books are funny. Kids can't fake laughter. So the only way I can judge if what I'm doing is real or true or right is if I can get a laugh," says the tall, garrulous Willems as he perches on a stool in the Park Slope apartment he shares with his wife and young daughter. Artifacts from his past lives abound: a cluster of Emmy Awards, won for his writing on Sesame Street, gleams in a corner of the spacious living room; Calderesque wire sculptures (early artistic efforts) and framed cels from his animation work decorate his sunny studio.
Getting kids to laugh is a skill Willems has mastered. In addition to clever wordplay and resonant subject matter—the lost Knuffle, the fear of nature's call in Time to Pee! (Hyperion, 2003)—his books share a visual simplicity that prompts giggles. "It's important to me that most of the drawings I make can be reasonably copied by a four-year-old," he says. "A lot of my design process involves taking things away until I get the simplest, rawest drawings."
Willems learned about simplicity of design from his earliest inspirations: the humorous, clean-lined drawings of Dutch illustrator Fiep Westendorp, and Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts comics. "They had so much depth and honesty," he says, pointing to the sizable collection of Peanuts books on his bookshelves. Willems, the son of Dutch immigrants, grew up in New Orleans. He spent part of his unconventional childhood hanging around neighborhood blues bars, making sketches and telling funny stories, which led to a stint in stand-up comedy. After attending NYU, he tried film school, but quickly turned to animation because, he says, "You didn't have to worry about the weather and you didn't need a cast of thousands. You just drew a lot of characters."
In 1993, producers at Sesame Street, impressed by his comedy work and animated shorts, hired Willems in an unusual double role: as a writer and an animator. During the next nine years, he produced both scripts and short films for the show, before leaving to create the animated series Sheep in the Big City for the Cartoon Network.
Writing for children's television not only established Willems's career, it also helped shape how he wanted to communicate to kids. By the time he left Sesame Street in 2002, Willems no longer agreed with the show's approach to entertaining children. He notes, "I find that in a lot of popular kids' culture there's a tendency to say things like 'everyone can be number one,' which is a statistical impossibility. That happiness is the only valid emotion, and anybody who isn't happy is somehow bad. I think all these things are untrue, and kids see that they're untrue. The difference between children and adults is that they're shorter—not dumber."
Yet Willems did not go into children's book publishing with an agenda. "I just wanted to be true, to entertain," he says. "At most, I wouldn't mind helping kids think about the world around them."
It took Willems five years to break into publishing. While pitching various ideas to his agent, Marcia Wernick at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency, a Pigeon sketchbook fell out of his portfolio. The sketchbook became a picture book, and an avian star was born when Alessandra Balzer at Hyperion picked up the manuscript in 2001.
Besides Pigeon, Willems is currently juggling eight publishing projects in different stages, his preferred work method. He writes a manuscript, then comes up with a storyboard or a mock-up book with dozens of drawings. Then, with Balzer and Hyperion art director Ann Diebel, he shuffles images, edits and cuts. "It's always alive, it's never finished," says Willems about how he creates a book. "You throw things away until it works, until it finds its voice."
Among his forthcoming projects are several more picture books for Hyperion. Other projects will test Willems's range, including Every Man for Himself (Dial), a book of short stories for teenage boys, and a graphic memoir he is writing now of the yearlong round-the-world trip he took after high school, which Balzer will publish at Hyperion.
But he returns to a familiar theme in his fall 2005 release, a picture book for Hyperion called Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, starring a little monster who is really bad at scaring people. Like Pigeon, who loses his bid to drive the bus, and Knuffle Bunny 's toddler, who can't communicate that she's lost her bunny, Leonardo deals with failure and frustration. This theme, Willems says, flows throughout his work, even if it's unconscious. "Failure is pervasive in chil-dren's lives, but I don't know when it stopped being funny," he says. "It needs to be explored and enjoyed and laughed at and understood." Willems's books tell kids it's okay to fall short—and makes them smile at the same time.
Mo Willems and Carl Harvey (interview date August-September 2005)
SOURCE: Willems, Mo, and Carl Harvey. "Mo Willems: You Never Know." Library Media Connection 24, no. 1 (August-September 2005): 48-9.
[In the following interview, Willems discusses his former career as a television writer and animator, his first forays into the children's picture book genre—such as Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale—and offers an original short fable for young readers.]
Writing and drawing in the morning, lunching with the family, taking the dog for a long walk, and finishing the afternoon conducting business are all parts of a normal day for author and illustrator Mo Willems. "Well, that's the idea, anyway. The truth is more hectic and less romantic," he says. In the past two years, Mo Willems has gone from writing television shows for children to being a published author of more than four books—two named Caldecott Honor Medal winners—with more on the way. It's a whirlwind start for a new author and illustrator of children's books.
Mo Willems was raised by Dutch immigrant parents down the street from a blues bar in New Orleans. His father quit working to become a full-time potter and his mother became a corporate lawyer. After finishing New York University's Film School, Willems sold carved ceramics and wire sculptures he made with his father, worked at various animation studios, painted art for bubble gum cards, and freelanced as a photographer, gag writer, and gallery assistant. Eventually, he was invited to write and create cartoons for Sesame Street, which led him down the path of writing for children and entertaining them.
An Animated Past
Willems' television work has garnered him six Emmy awards. Young readers might not instantly recognize his name from television, but many have seen some of his creations on the Cartoon Network's Sheep in the Big City, Nickelodeon's The Off-Beats, and Suze Kabloozie shorts on Sesame Street. He also was the head-writer for Codename: Kids Next Door—the number one rated series on the Cartoon Network.
According to Willems, the transition from writing scripts for cartoons to creating picture books was "both an evolution and devolution." After years of writing weekly scripts for television, he wanted a new format for telling his stories. At the same time, his cartoon productions were becoming so complex that he had to delegate to others much of the drawing part of the show. The picture book allowed him to explore a new format to share his imaginative adventures and, at the same time, revert back to where he could control the art, text, and design.
He says comparing the difficulty in writing a script to writing a picture book is like "comparing apples and elephants." Each format is unique. Willems says, "I like to explore the inner workings of my character and his/her situation before I trudge into the messy work of plot-y, beginning-middle-end stuff. So, I sketch and write, doodle and outline, walk and think. It's important for my characters to be fully realized, living beings before I slap a story on them."
Willems developed the pigeon character in a sketch-book in Oxford, England, during a summer that he was determined to write a "great" children's book. As Willems says, "My 'great' ideas stank, but the Pigeon had legs, so to speak. He wouldn't go away, and I'm glad he didn't." Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! raced to the New York Times and Publisher's Weekly bestsellers lists and earned a 2004 Caldecott Honor Medal. Willems created the illustrations using a crumbly permanent crayon and digitally coloring them on the computer. All the pigeon wanted was to have a chance to drive the bus; however, the bus driver was very adamant that it was not allowed. When read aloud, students roar with laughter at telling the pigeon "no" as he pleads with them to let him drive the bus.
Willems found another adventure for the pigeon, and a sequel, The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog, soon followed. All the pigeon wanted was to eat a hot dog he found. However, a pesky little duckling wants to know what a hot dog tastes like. Students quickly catch the idea that the pigeon and duckling should share, but have a hilarious time as the animals reach that conclusion. When asked if the pigeon would fly again, Willems commented, "The Pigeon wouldn't have it any other way. But, not wanting to be Pigeonholed, I've got several other cool projects coming up."
Into a Rabbit Hole
Combining illustration media of drawings and photographs, Willems' Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale tells the story of a toddler who has lost her stuffed bunny rabbit, Knuffle Bunny. Unable to talk yet, the child screams, hollers, and stomps to explain to her poor, confused father that she is missing the bunny. Not wanting to be left out, the pigeon does make a cameo appearance in the book. Knuffle is pronounced "Kuh-Nuffle" and is Dutch for "hug or snuggle." However, Willems quips, "I always say that if you buy the book, you can pronounce it anyway you like."
Willems writes, "There are three types of stories: stories that happened to you, stories that happened to someone else, and stories you make up." While there are lots of pigeons in the Brooklyn neighborhood where Willems lives with his wife and daughter, the pigeon was a story that came completely from his imagination. Willems also pulls from personal experience for his books. He says, "With the exception of the parts I made up, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale is a completely true story."
His illustrations are driven by the story. Willems does not have just one style or format that he prefers, but rather tries a variety of things until "the story tells me what's right." The illustration format of combining actual photos with drawings was just the right format for Knuffle Bunny. The photos are from Willems' neighborhood, and the photo/illustration combination earned Willems a second Caldecott Honor Medal in 2005. Willems says, "I feel incredibly, well, honored to have received another Caldecott Honor; it's more than I could have imagined when I started publishing children's books two years ago." His favorite award, however, is hearing a room full of children yelling "NOOOOOOOO!" to a pigeon or getting an envelope full of Knuffle Bunny drawings.
Not confined to a pigeon or a bunny, Willems also has written a book to help youngsters learn to use the bathroom in Time to Pee! and is following it up with another self-help book title, Time to Say Please! Excitement also fills him at the thought of another new book, Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, which will be published in the fall of 2005. "It is about the worst monster (at being a monster) ever," comments Willems.
In all of Willems' books, his characters are simple illustrations. Nothing is elaborate or extremely detailed. Willems hopes young readers will take his characters and create their own adventures. Willems writes, "The only conscious decision I make is to try and design my characters so that a child can draw them reasonably well. It makes the stories inherently participatory; with simple character designs, kids can create their own tales after reading mine." He continues, "I love to draw, so when I get through all the writing and preliminary sketching chats with my editor and stuff, it's very relaxing to be able to crank up the tunes and sit alone drawing."
Willems has provided a link to a drawing guide to the pigeon along with teachers' guides for several of his books on his Web site 〈www.mowillems.com〉. His advice to young budding authors and illustrators is, "There is no easiest part; although, there are lots of fun parts. The hardest thing: simplifying. A seemingly effortless story sings, but if your audience notices all the work you've put into your book, you've failed."
Mo Willems has an uncanny ability to connect with young children. Anyone who has read his books aloud to children hears the room fill with laughter and shouts of joy over his writing and illustrations. When asked what he hopes children will take away from his books he says, "A few good giggles and maybe an interesting thought or two. Every book is a dialogue between the writer and the reader (or listener); it's not up to me to say what 'my' books are about; that would be story-preaching not storytelling." Willems adds, "I can't comment on my 'ability.' All I do is take kids seriously as I try to make them laugh."
A Fable from Uncle Mo?
When asked if there was anything he would like readers (both adults and kids) to know about him, he suggested, "A fable from Uncle Mo?"
Once upon a time, there were 3,472 Little Pigs. By the time they finished high school, their mother was more than eager to kick them out of her cramped studio apartment into the Big, Bad world to make houses of their own.
Well, the first Little Pig built a house out of straw.
The second Little Pig built a house out of sticks.
The third Little Pig built a house of bricks.
The fourth Little Pig built a house out of steel.
The fifth Little Pig built a house out of aluminum siding (which costs less than you think!).
The sixth Little Pig built a house out of all those catalogs he got in the mail.
You get the idea.
One day, the Big, Bad Wolf came to the door of the first Little Pig's straw house. He grinned a sharp, toothy grin and called out in a deep voice, "Little Pig, Little Pig! Let me in!"
The Little Pig peeked out of the window, took one look at the Big, Bad Wolf and said, "Sure."
The Little Pig opened the door, the Big, Bad Wolf strode right in, and they spent a lovely evening playing backgammon and watching a documentary about Genghis Khan.
And the moral is: You Never Know.
The moral describes the life of Mo Willems. His life journey has taken him many places and directions in a short period of time. His humor brings smiles to adults and students alike, and you never know what he might do next. We can only hope for more entertaining books!
Julie Roach (review date August 2005)
SOURCE: Roach, Julie. Review of The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! and The Pigeon Loves Things That Go!, by Mo Willems. School Library Journal 51, no. 8 (August 2005): 108.
PreS—Everyone's favorite pigeon is back with two titles [The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! and The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! ] for the board-book crowd. In Feelings, the Bus Driver tries to get Pigeon to make a happy face. Pigeon, of course, has other ideas. Words such as "happy," "sad," and "angry" stand out in bold colors. Things That Go! presents popular modes of transportation such as a bus, a train, an airplane … and a hot dog ("A hot dog can 'GO' right into my belly!") while Pigeon provides colorful commentary. Both books use the same style and color scheme found in the original picture books, with clean bright pages and simple thick-lined illustrations. Pigeon's fans will be excited to see this wacky bird and his friends again.
DONT'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS! (2003)
Dona Ratterree (review date May 2003)
SOURCE: Ratterree, Dona. Review of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, by Mo Willems. School Library Journal 49, no. 5 (May 2003): 132.
PreS-Gr. 2—[Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! is a] brilliantly simple book that is absolutely true to life, as anyone who interacts with an obdurate three-year-old can attest. The bus driver has to leave for a while, and he makes one request of readers: "Don't let the pigeon drive the bus." It's the height of common sense, but the driver clearly knows this determined pigeon and readers do not—yet. "Hey, can I drive the bus?" asks the bird, at first all sweet reason, and then, having clearly been told no by readers, he begins his ever-escalating, increasingly silly bargaining. "I tell you what: I'll just steer," and "I never get to do anything," then "No fair! I bet your mom would let me." In a wonderfully expressive spread, the pigeon finally loses it, and, feathers flying and eyeballs popping, screams "LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!!!" in huge, scratchy, black-and-yellow capital letters. The driver returns, and the pigeon leaves in a funk—until he spies a huge tractor trailer, and dares to dream again. Like David Shannon's No, David (Scholastic, 1998), Pigeon is an unflinching and hilarious look at a child's potential for mischief. In a plain palette, with childishly elemental line drawings, Willems has captured the essence of unreasonableness in the very young. The genius of this book is that the very young will actually recognize themselves in it.
Kitty Flynn (review date July-August 2003)
SOURCE: Flynn, Kitty. Review of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, by Mo Willems. Horn Book Magazine 79, no. 4 (July-August 2003): 449-50.
Facing the title page [of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! ], an amiable-looking bus driver addresses listeners directly in a speech balloon: "Listen, I've got to leave for a little while, so can you watch things for me until I get back? Thanks." A reasonable enough request. The caveat? "Oh, and remember: Don't let the pigeon drive the bus!" If story-hour lis-teners (and beginning readers) haven't already had their curiosity piqued by the silly title and opening endpapers—with said pigeon picturing himself behind the wheel—this appeal from the driver will hook them for sure. And he's not talking about your garden-variety flighty pigeon. As soon as the bus driver walks off the copyright page, the brazen bird gets right to the point: "Hey, can I drive the bus?" Willems's animation background (on Sesame Street and the Cartoon Network) is used here to good effect. Clean, sparely designed pages focus attention on the simply drawn but wildly expressive (and emotive) pigeon, and there's a particularly funny page-turn when a well-mannered double-page spread with eight vignettes of the pleading pigeon gives way to a full-bleed, full-blown temper tantrum. Assuming that young listeners will take on the role of limit-setting grown-ups and not identify with the powerless but impertinent pigeon ("What's the big deal!?" "No fair!"), this well-paced story encourages audience interaction. In fact, like the wide-eyed pigeon, the book demands it. By the end, the pigeon has moved on—to dreaming about driving an eighteen wheeler. And that's a big 10-4, good buddy.
Gillian Engberg (review date 1 September 2003)
SOURCE: Engberg, Gillian. Review of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, by Mo Willems. Booklist 100, no. 1 (1 September 2003): 123.
PreS—In his winning debut, [Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, ] Willems finds the preschooler in a pigeon: a cajoling, tantrum-throwing, irresistible bird. "I've got to leave for a little while," says a uniformed bus driver as he strolls off the opening pages. "I thought he'd never leave," says the big-eyed pigeon as he marches onto the next spread and begins his campaign to drive the bus. His tactics, addressed to an unseen audience, are many: he reasons ("I tell you what: I'll just steer"); he whines ("I never get to do anything!"); he's creative ("Let's play 'Drive the Bus'! I'll go first"); he bargains ("C'mon! Just once around the block!"). Finally he erupts in a feather-flying tantrum, followed by a drooping sulk that ends only when a truck arrives, and new road fantasies begin. Librarians may struggle with the endpapers, which contain important story content, but the design is refreshingly minimal, focusing always on the pigeon; he's the only image on nearly every earth-toned spread. Willems is a professional animator, and each page has the feel of a perfectly frozen frame of cartoon footage—action, remarkable expression, and wild humor captured with just a few lines. Preschoolers will howl over the pigeon's dramatics, even as they recognize that he wheedles, blows up, and yearns to be powerful just like they do.
Linda M. Pavonetti, Kathleen Armstrong, Marilyn Carpenter, and Richard M. Kerper (review date March 2005)
SOURCE: Pavonetti, Linda M., Kathleen Armstrong, Marilyn Carpenter, and Richard M. Kerper. Review of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, by Mo Willems. Language Arts 82, no. 4 (March 2005): 312.
A seemingly logical request introduces this story [Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! ]—as a bus driver walks off the page, he casually warns readers, "Don't let the pigeon drive the bus." Immediately, the pigeon arrives on the scene asking with great anticipation, "Hey, can I drive the bus?" The implied response is surely "no" because the pigeon conjures up multiple ways to sway the reader: "I tell you what: I'll just steer," "No fair! I bet your mom would let me." Employing all the tactics that children—preschoolers to teenagers—use to convince their parents, the pigeon tempestuously roars, "LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!!!" The pigeon is portrayed through minimal line drawings that accentuate his brief dialogue in extraordinarily expressive ways. When the bus driver returns near the end of the book, the pigeon clearly feels defeated; but the arrival of an immense truck instantly inspires new dreams.
TIME TO PEE! (2003)
Karen Coats (review date December 2003)
SOURCE: Coats, Karen. Review of Time to Pee!, by Mo Willems. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 57, no. 4 (December 2003): 169.
With the enthusiastic help of a troop of mice, [in Time to Pee!, ] toddlers learn the rudiments of going to the bathroom, from the first funny feeling to proper form ("Boys can stand. Girls should sit") to finishing up. Along the way, Willems acknowledges the common impediments to toilet teaching in subtle and understated ways. Using direct address, he enjoins the child characters not to panic, fret, or ignore the funny feeling, assuring them that "everything will still be right where it was" when they are done, and that if they aren't successful right at first, they'll always have another chance. The mice are exuberant cheerleaders, holding up the spare, straightforward words of the text as banners, balloons, and signs, giving the activity a parade-like atmosphere. As in Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Willems' strength as an animator shows clearly here; his drafting is clean and lean against white backgrounds, his compositions are linear and progressive, and his characters emote with their whole bodies. The face of the boy as he is actually peeing is particularly effective in its comic "relief." There's not as much general silliness and appeal in this book as in Pigeon, but then, this is a more serious subject with a more focused audience. The book does its work with a light and comic hand, and it will prove a useful tool in the toilet-teaching stall. Stickers and a success chart are included.
Kitty Flynn (review date January-February 2004)
SOURCE: Flynn, Kitty. Review of Time to Pee!, by Mo Willems. Horn Book Magazine 80, no. 1 (January-February 2004): 75.
For kids who see every trip to the potty as an Event, [Time to Pee! ]'s parade of enthusiastic, sign-wielding mice cheering them into the bathroom will be welcome indeed. More pep rally than how-to, the book is perfectly attuned to preschoolers' sensibilities and funny bones. The straightforward text ("Go for it, dude"; "1, 2, 3, PEE!") appears a word or two at a time on balloons, flags, open parachutes, banners, placards, kites, a wrecking ball, and, of course, toilet paper. Willems (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, ) reinforces the familiar sequence: "Excuse yourself"; "Pull down your underwear"; "Boys can stand / Girls should sit"; "Flush!"; "Wash your hands." Most of the sideline action is conveyed in the energetic, cartoonlike illustrations, which manage to be uncluttered despite the rowdy gang of mice, coaching and encouraging each step of the way. Every page offers plenty of details to pore over (think bathroom reading for the toilet-training set), including mice flying overhead with jet packs, in helicopters, and in airplanes; being shot out of a cannon; and controlling air traffic. An ensemble cast of little kids star in this bathroom success story, each child looking confident, unsure, relieved, or proud, as the situation warrants. (The included stickers—"great work!" "nice aim!" "oops!"—and weeklong success chart attached to the book jacket are a handy gimmick, though not much use for libraries.) Kids reluctant to take a potty break from playtime are reassured that "everything will still be right where it was" when they return from the bathroom. The point might get lost in all the hoopla, but luckily it's one that will bear repeating in the inevitable encore readings.
KNUFFLE BUNNY: A CAUTIONARY TALE (2004)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Joy Bean (review date 16 August 2004)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Joy Bean. Review of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems. Publishers Weekly 251, no. 33 (16 August 2004): 62.
Any child who has ever had a favorite toy will identify with the toddler star of this tale [Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale ]. The plot is simple: Trixie loses bunny, finds bunny and then exuberantly says her first words—"Knuffle Bunny!!!" The fun comes from the details. In an innovative style that employs dappled black-and-white photographs of Brooklyn as backdrop to wickedly funny color cartoons, Willems (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! ) creates an entertaining story for parents and children alike. His economical storytelling and deft skill with line lend the book its distinctive charm, while the endpapers mitigate anxiety by clueing in readers concerning the solution to Trixie's problem. Willems renders the characters with Little Lulu-style pointed noses and their expressions are laugh-out-loud funny, from the hapless father's worried look as he and Trixie venture out to the Laundromat, to his roll-up-your-sleeves determination as he rescues the stuffed toy from the washing machine. But it's pre-verbal Trixie who steals the show. Her wide-eyed enthusiasm about the world around her is matched only by her desperate attempts to communicate. "Aggle flaggle klabble!" she says when she finds Knuffle Bunny missing, and her well-intentioned but clueless father translates, "That's right…. We're going home." An especially delicious scene finds the frustrated Trixie abandoning baby talk for action: "Well, she had no choice. Trixie bawled. She went boneless." The accompanying pictures comically corroborate the omniscient narrator's claim. Willems once again demonstrates his keen insight with a story both witty and wise. Ages 4-8.
Jennifer Mattson (review date 15 September 2004)
SOURCE: Mattson, Jennifer. Review of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems. Booklist 101, no. 2 (15 September 2004): 241.
PreS-Gr. 1—This comic gem proves that Caldecott Medal-winner Willems, the Dr. Spock and Robin Williams of the lap-sit crowd, has just as clear a bead on pre-verbal children as on silver-tongued preschoolers. On a father-daughter trip to the Laundromat [in Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale ], before toddler Trixie "could even speak words," Daddy distractedly tosses her favorite stuffed bunny into the wash. Unfortunately, Trixie's desperate cries ("aggle flaggle klabble") come across as meaningless baby talk, so she pitches a fit until perceptive Mommy and abashed Daddy sprint back to retrieve the toy. Willems chronicles this domestic drama with pitch-perfect text and illustrations that boldly depart from the spare formula of his previous books. Sepia-tone photographs of a Brooklyn neighborhood provide the backdrops for his hand-drawn artwork, intensifying the humor of the gleefully stylized characters—especially Trixie herself, who effectively registers all the universal signs of toddler distress, from the first quavery grimace to the uncooperative, "boneless" stage to the googly-eyed, gape-mouthed crisis point. Even children who can already talk a blue streak will come away satisfied that their own strong emotions have been mirrored and legitimized, and readers of all ages will recognize the agonizing frustration of a little girl who knows far more than she can articulate.
Kitty Flynn (review date September-October 2004)
SOURCE: Flynn, Kitty. Review of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems. Horn Book Magazine 80, no. 5 (September-October 2004): 576-77.
The cautionary part of this story [Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale ] by the creator of The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! is more for parents than for preschoolers, but there's plenty here for kids to embrace. First, there are the playful illustrations, in which brightly colored human (and stuffed animal) cartoon characters, rendered in Willems's expressive retro style, are digitally incorporated into sepia-toned photographs of a quiet urban neighborhood. Then there's the simple, satisfying story. Little Trixie (too young to "even speak words") and her daddy walk to the Laundromat, put the laundry in a machine, and head home. On the way back, Trixie realizes with dismay what sharp-eyed lapsitters may have already noticed—her beloved stuffed bunny has been left behind. The pace picks up here, mirroring Trixie's distress. Without words, she does the best she can to get Daddy to understand. "Trixie bawled. She went boneless. She did everything she could to show how unhappy she was," but Daddy, in a foul mood now, remains clueless until Trixie's mommy greets them at the door with the obvious question: "Where's Knuffle Bunny?" Trixie's pissed-off expression says it all. This everyday drama will immediately register with even preverbal listeners.
Martha Topol (review date October 2004)
SOURCE: Topol, Martha. Review of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems. School Library Journal 50, no. 10 (October 2004): 136.
PreS-Gr. 1—Trixie steps lively as she goes on an errand with her daddy [in Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale ], down the block, through the park, past the school, to the Laundromat. For the toddler, loading and putting money into the machine invoke wide-eyed pleasure. But, on the return home, she realizes something. Readers will know immediately that her stuffed bunny has been left behind but try as she might, (in hilarious gibberish), she cannot get her father to understand her problem. Despite his plea of "please don't get fussy," she gives it her all, bawling and going "boneless." They both arrive home unhappy. Mom immediately sees that "Knuffle Bunny" is missing and so it's back to the Laundromat they go. After several tries, dad finds the toy among the wet laundry and reclaims hero status. Yet, this is not simply a lost-and-found tale. The toddler exuberantly exclaims, "Knuffle Bunny!!!" "And those were the first words Trixie ever said." The concise, deftly told narrative becomes the perfect springboard for the pictures. They, in turn, augment the story's emotional acuity. Printed on olive-green backdrops, the illustrations are a combination of muted, sepia-toned photographs upon which bright cartoon drawings of people have been superimposed. Personalities are artfully created so that both parents and children will recognize themselves within these pages. A seamless and supremely satisfying presentation of art and text.
THE PIGEON FINDS A HOT DOG! (2004)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Joy Bean (review date 5 April 2004)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Joy Bean. Review of The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, by Mo Willems. Publishers Weekly 251, no. 14 (5 April 2004): 60.
In Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, the hero was subordinate to an unseen person who withheld bus-driving permission; here he has the dominant role and must placate his own pesky interloper, as he bargains with a duckling over a discarded hot dog [in The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! ]. The tale, conveyed in the same pleasing emotive dialogue and gestures, opens with the pigeon's thrilled discovery of the title snack: "Oooooh! A hot dog! / Yummy! Yummy! Yummy!" Suddenly, a smaller yellow bird enters from the lower right corner and asks, in rounded lowercase letters, "Is that a 'hot dog'?" "Not a hot dog; my hot dog," the pigeon sniffs, but his reply gives the duckling a rhetorical advantage. "What do they taste like?" it wonders aloud. The pigeon knows the duckling's disingenuous game, but his suspicious, hooded eyes and frowning beak suggest uncertainty. The trickster, meanwhile, regards the pigeon through flirtatious blue eyes and coyly tilts its teardrop shaped beak. The pigeon glares at the audience ("Can you believe this guy!?!"), shouts "That's it!" in bold two-inch-tall caps and throws an eight-stage temper tantrum before splitting the wiener in half. "Hmmmm, needs mustard," says the duck. Through voice bubbles, body language, and expressive sizes and shapes of type, Willems crafts a comical give-and-take between the characters. He sketches both iconic birds in decisive crayony lines and tints the pages with smooth pastel hues. Readers of all ages won't be able to resist miming the sly conversation in this satisfying sequel. Ages 2-6.
Claire Dederer (review date 16 May 2004)
SOURCE: Dederer, Claire. "Bird Bites Dog." New York Times Book Review (16 May 2004): 16.
[In the following review, Dederer offers a positive assessment of The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, the second picture book in Willems's "Pigeon" series, but argues that the text "suffers just a bit by comparison to its predecessor."]
Mo Willems has created a new character as street-smart and acerbically engaging as Oscar the Grouch. It's a pigeon, a savvy negotiator who appeared last year in Willems's first book, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, and who returns in The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!
In the first book, which won a Caldecott Honor citation, a bus driver appears on the title page and addresses the reader: "Listen, I've got to leave for a little while, so can you watch things for me until I get back? Thanks. Oh, and remember: Don't let the pigeon drive the bus!" The rest of the story consists of the pigeon trying to persuade the reader to let him, you know, drive the bus.
For a child, it's a delirious formula: all of a sudden, you're in charge of a bus. Still, this would be a high-concept one-trick pony of a book if it weren't so well executed and so smartly layered.
Willems has won several Emmys as a writer and animator for Sesame Street, and he's got a terrific ear for dialogue; his books might as well be scripts. The children in my house especially loved this line from the first book: "Hey! I've got an idea. Let's play 'Drive the Bus'! I'll go first." You could practically see them squirreling the gambit away for later use.
The pictures in both books—simple, thick-lined drawings of the pigeon against a bare background—are as spare and right as the words. The bird itself looks like an exercise from one of those teach-yourself-to-draw books of the 1960's, which showed talentless but determined would-be comic artists how to draw different animals by linking together a series of simple shapes. ("First, make a perfect circle for the head….")
Willems strayed outside this formula on just one page of his first book. The drawing becomes shaky and erratic as the frustrated, enraged, red-eyed pigeon hollers, "LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!!!" The effect is laugh-out-loud funny, even for an adult.
With their clean look, direct approach and wised-up language, Willems's books have a slightly anachronistic appeal. They remind me, strangely, of the work of George Lois, the advertising legend who created the "Think small" campaign for Volkswagen. He went on to design some of Esquire's greatest covers, all of which boasted simple, witty visuals: Sonny Liston in a Santa suit, Andy Warhol drowning in a giant can of Campbell's soup. That same terse, masculine, funny aesthetic marks Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
Willems's new one, The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, seems as influenced by traditional cartoons as it is by advertising. This time the pigeon (the same pigeon) finds the titular hot dog and is just about to chomp down on it when along comes a sweet little yellow duckling (who looks not unlike Tweety Bird). The duckling attempts to inveigle the pigeon into giving up the hot dog, and the pigeon resists. The two engage in a battle of wits, with the pigeon demonstrating the same charmingly obnoxious childishness he showed before.
This time, his theme is "Mine!" The duckling, who claims never to have eaten a hot dog, expresses curiosity as to what it might taste like. The pigeon isn't having any of it: "'Finders, keepers,' is what I say!" In the end, the mild-mannered duckling outsmarts the pigeon and utters the concluding line: "Hmmm…. Needs mustard."
Again, there's a vintage quality to Willems's work. The exchange between the two birds follows a tried and true, even old-fashioned, cartoon model: smaller, smarter character (Bugs Bunny, Road Runner) outwits stronger, dumber character (Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote). Though the pigeon occasionally addresses the reader—"Can you believe this guy!?!," he asks in exasperation—the action exists between the two characters, not between the pigeon and the reader. Instead of being put in a position of power, the reader is put in a position of commiseration. But who wants to commiserate with an ill-mannered pigeon?
That's not to say it's no fun. The thrill, for children, comes in figuring out just how the duckling won the battle. Compared with Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, this is a complicated and cerebral kind of fun, but it's fun nonetheless.
I suspect that The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! suffers just a bit by comparison to its predecessor. It features the same great, sassy dialogue, the same satisfyingly clean drawing style, even the same hilarious freakout page where the pigeon just can't take it anymore. These pleasures are substantial, and should not be discounted just because the first book was even better.
Karen Coats (review date July-August 2004)
SOURCE: Coats, Karen. Review of The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, by Mo Willems. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 57, no. 11 (July-August 2004): 498-90.
Undaunted by his failure to drive a bus, Willems' obstreperous one-eyed pigeon is back [in The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! ], this time seeking his bliss through the gastronomic pleasures of a found hot dog. Alas, along comes a diminutive duckling ("scooty, scoot, scoot!") determined to get his piece of the dog. Duckling's seemingly innocent chatter ("I've never had a hot dog before…. What do they taste like?… Would you say that it tastes like chicken?") and guileless expression nearly undo our high-strung hero as he begins to realize that he's being duped by the little duck into giving up his booty. Returning to a formula can be tricky, especially when the expectations are set as high as the pigeon's debut (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, ), which garnered a Caldecott Honor. This chapter of the pigeon agon is visually similar to the former, and also echoes its predecessor in yielding up delightfully unexpected curricular possibilities for older students (such as college freshmen, among others) by illustrating the various methods of rhetorical appeal. It's a departure from precedent, however, that the pigeon's hopes are not completely thwarted here, and the ending is more or less satisfying depending on how you prefer your justice served: some listeners will likely warm to the messages of sharing and compromise, while others may miss the high tragedy of utterly disappointed dreams. Either way, the duckling is adorable.
LEONARDO, THE TERRIBLE MONSTER (2005)
Ilene Cooper (review date July 2005)
SOURCE: Cooper, Ilene. Review of Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems. Booklist 101, no. 21 (July 2005): 1931.
PreS-K—"Your Pal, Mo Willems," as the cover reads, offers a simple message-driven story [Leonardo, the Terrible Monster ], elevated by a smart, striking design. Leonardo is supposed to be a terrible monster, but he's just terrible at his monsterly craft. Small, with big blue eyes, a blue tongue, and a furry body, Leonardo looks like a tiny, unassuming brother of a Wild Thing. He gets an idea: find the most "scaredy-cat kid" in the world and "scare the tuna salad" out of him. He finds Sam, who seems an easy mark and bursts into tears. But on a clever double-page spread, Willems lists the real reasons Sam is crying, starting with "My mean big brother stole the action figure out of my hands" and ending with a bird's pooping on Sam's head. After thinking it over, Leonardo decides to move from terrible monster to wonderful friend. This oversize book uses thick paper in the colors of a desert sunset. Sam and Leonardo take up very little room on the large pages; the old-fashioned lettering dominates the expanse of color. A winner for story hours, with plenty of discussion possibilities.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 July 2005)
SOURCE: Review of Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems. Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 14 (15 July 2005): 797.
With a palette straight from the endpapers of Where the Wild Things Are, and postures not a little reminiscent of Max, Willems crafts a sweetly original morality play about a very unscary monster [in Leonardo, the Terrible Monster ]. Realizing that he doesn't pos-sess the ideal monster attributes (1,642 teeth, enormous size or utter weirdness), Leonardo resolves to find "the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world … and scare the tuna salad out of him!" Exhaustive research yields Sam, who, in a double-page-spread torrent of words, explains why he's so miserable. He cries when Leonardo tries to scare him: "MY MEAN BIG BROTHER STOLE MY ACTION FIGURE [etc.]!" The instant connection between the two is the very definition of sympathy, and Leonardo and Sam proceed to become fast friends. The highly predictable ending is made fresh by the superb control of pacing, just-zany-enough sense of humor and body language readers have come to expect from the creator of Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny. Leonardo and Sam appear mostly in the corners of vast blank spreads, the showbiz typeface (all caps) emphasizing the theatricality of it all. Bravo! (Picture book. 3-6)
Marianne Saccardi (review date August 2005)
SOURCE: Saccardi, Marianne. Review of Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems. School Library Journal 51, no. 8 (August 2005): 108.
PreS-Gr. 1—Leonardo is a terrible monster—"terrible" as in he can't scare anybody. He's not big, doesn't have hundreds of teeth, and isn't even weird. So one day [in Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, ] he comes up with an idea: "He would find the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world … and scare the tuna salad out of him!" After much research, he chooses Sam, sneaks up on him, and "[gives] it all he [has]." When the boy cries, Leonardo is convinced that he is a success. But Sam proceeds to recite a litany of wrongs that actually brought on his tears: "My mean big brother stole my action figure right out of my hands …," and on and on. Leonardo makes a decision that is sure to surprise and delight readers. Willems's familiar cartoon drawings work hand in glove with the brief text to tell this perfectly paced story. It is printed on pastel grounds in large, fancy letters that change color for emphasis. Sam's list of woes marches across a spread. Leonardo, a small greenish-beige creature with tiny horns; blue eyes; and pink nose, hands, and feet, first appears in a lower right-hand corner looking dejected, but when he makes his momentous decision, his circular head fills two pages. His antics to produce a scare will have youngsters laughing, while the asterisk next to the number of monster Tony's teeth ("∗note: not all teeth shown") will have grown-ups chuckling, too. A surefire hit.
TIME TO SAY PLEASE! (2005)
Quinby Frank (review date April-May 2005)
SOURCE: Frank, Quinby. Review of Time to Say Please!, by Mo Willems. Library Media Connection 23, no. 7 (April-May 2005): 76.
K-5—With his usual perfect blend of text and illustration, the author has created a lesson in manners without the slightest hint of didacticism [in Time to Say Please! ]. A rich collection of multicultural children are encouraged to use the magic words "please," "thank you," "excuse me," and "sorry" by a legion of merry mice holding a variety of creative text bubbles in the form of blackboards, dirigibles, balloons, trucks, and boats. There are cameo appearances from Willems' previous books, including the pigeon and Mo himself. The characters and very simple text are effectively highlighted in softly muted shades of blues, greens, and browns against a generous white background, and Willems' skilled cartoonist hand is evident in the fascinating activities of the delightfully expressive mice whose antics constantly expand and enrich the text. The book begins with a child wanting a cookie and ends happily when her "please" is rewarded, but there is a moment of suspense while the dad thinks about his response. An added treat is a related board game at the back of the book. The author's gentle humor and dead-on accurate flair for understanding a child's point of view will have readers begging to "please" read this book again and again! Highly Recommended.
Kitty Flynn (review date July-August 2005)
SOURCE: Flynn, Kitty. Review of Time to Say Please!, by Mo Willems. Horn Book Magazine 81, no. 4 (July-August 2005): 462.
"If you ever really want something, / really, really want something, / don't just grab it!" The cheerleading gang of mice from Time to Pee! here offer tips and encouragement on manners [in Time to Say Please! ]. As in Willems's previous pep rally of a book, words in the simple text appear on such items as banners, balloons, parachutes, blimps, helicopters, and signs (to name a few), all wielded/held aloft/driven by the enthusiastic mice. Despite the amount of frenetic activity on each page, the cartoon art isn't chaotic and offers lots of details for viewers to pore over. The breezy etiquette lesson briefly touches on when to say "please" ("when you want a turn") as well as on three other phrases that "can come in handy" ("excuse me," "sorry," and "thank you"). Although Willems mentions that "you may not get what you want," he doesn't reinforce that important point in the example given (a little girl who gets a cookie after asking politely). Still, this is a lighthearted accompaniment to other preschool books on manners—such as Margery Cuyler's Please Say Please! (Scholastic)—and an easily digested good-behavior refresher. A simple board game is printed inside the jacket, and a spinner for same is glued to the back endpaper.
Coats, Karen. Review of The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! and The Pigeon Loves Things That Go!, by Mo Willems. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 59, no. 1 (September 2005): 54.
States that The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! and The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! "match their picture-book counterparts in both style and attitude."
―――――――. Review of Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 59, no. 3 (November 2005): 127-28.
Compliments Willems's use of "smooth, pure colors" in Leonardo, the Terrible Monster.
Review of Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, by Mo Willems. Publishers Weekly 253, no. 8 (20 February 2006): 154.
Offers a positive assessment of Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, noting that "savvy readers will likely plead to read this again."
Additional coverage of Willems's life and career is contained in the following source published by Thomson Gale: Something about the Author, Vol. 154.