My kids first discovered Mo Willems books several years ago, were instantly enchanted, and our family has been huge fans ever since. Willems got his start writing on Sesame Street, where he won several Emmys, and later began writing books for children. The text in his picture books are simple (yet hilarious), perfect for beginning readers, but it is his illustrations that makes these stories come to life. From the beloved Pigeon books to Elephant and Piggie, his characters’ facial expressions and body language are so vivid, even my two-year-old can interpret the story just by looking at the pictures. If you haven’t yet been introduced to Willems, run, don’t walk, to your local library or book store and check him out. You and your kids will have a whole new incentive to read and laugh together; trust me-you’ll have a great time.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
This is the book that started it all in 2003, and the Pigeon is still Mo Willems number one character (he makes a hidden cameo in every book Willems writes). The premise is simple: the bus driver begins the book by asking the reader not to let the pigeon drive the bus, and the pigeon tries every trick in the book to do it anyway. Kids will love this simple, funny character, but the best part of reading this book is that they get to play the authority role (something kids relish) and constantly tell the pigeon “No!” on every page. The pigeon has many other books now, but this one continues to be our favorite. If you only own one Willems book, this should be it.
Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct
This funny story holds a wonderful lesson for kids about doing their own thing no matter what others may think. Edwina is a beloved dinosaur who leads a quiet existence befriending her neighbors and baking chocolate chip cookies for everyone. That is, until Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie, the elementary school know-it-all is determined to prove to the world that dinosaurs are extinct, and therefore Edwina doesn’t exist. But when no one will listen to him except Edwina, Reginald learns a valuable lesson about friendship and accepting others. Because even though Edwina learns that she is, indeed, extinct, she just doesn’t care.
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale
This is the first of the Knuffle Bunny trilogy that has captivated children everywhere. In this first installment, we meet Trixie (modeled after Mo’s real-life daughter of the same name), a sweet and funny toddler who can’t quite talk and has a stuffed Knuffle Bunny that she loves. But when she accompanies her daddy on an errand to the Laundromat and accidentally leaves Knuffle Bunny behind, her hilarious antics to communicate this to her daddy will have all children in stitches. This book blends beautiful black and white photography of Willem’s own Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn with his award-winning illustrations, making a story that’s truly unique. This is one that my toddler loves to “read” to himself over and over, mimicking the emotions Trixie portrays on each page. And just in case your child becomes really attached, you can now purchase your very own Knuffle Bunny Plush for your child to carry around, just like Trixie.
Can I Play Too? (An Elephant and Piggie Book)
Elephant and Piggie are by far the best characters Willems ever created, and some of the best characters in picture book history. Gerald is an elephant who is cautious and worries, and Piggie is a carefree pig who seems to be seldom bothered, but really enjoys her life and her friend. The two of them have fun adventures, and the emotions they portray in their books are wonderfully-illustrated. Willems is a master at capturing facial expressions; one could read these books without any text and still have a clear picture of the story, as my non-reading kids do. In this book, a friendly snake joins them to play a game of catch, but how can they all play together when snakes don’t have arms?! Everyone will laugh out loud at this silly story that your kids will want to read again and again.
Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed
If the title of this book isn’t silly enough to grab your attention, just start reading and you’ll soon be smirking at the predicament a certain naked mole rat named Wilbur faces. Wilbur is a naked mole rat, and these creatures by name don’t wear any clothes. But Wilbur loves to wear all sorts of clothes and costumes, yet his life is miserable because he’s always being made fun of. But when Wilbur sticks to his convictions and explains himself to the leader of all of the naked mole rats, Grand-Pah, the whole colony is in for a surprise. This is not only a funny story that kids will love (my oldest can’t get enough of the underwear illustrations), it’s a great lesson in questioning the norm, not succumbing to peer pressure, and being yourself.
To learn more about Mo Willems, his books, products, and other fun things, visit his main website, MoWillems.com.