I have been trying to review some picture books before my kids (and nephews and niece) get past the age of reading them. So here we are at my son’s favorite (not counting the Peek-a-Who board book when he was a baby). This series remains among his favorite picture books to read, and I will most likely buy him the “It’s a Busload of Pigeon Books” boxed set right as he deems them too “baby.”
I am not terribly acquainted with most of Mo Willems’ books, but I have always had a liking for the simple, colorful-yet-soft, crudely-outlined illustrations. Then again, I am also suspicious of those same simple illustrations I admire. I mean, anybody can do that, right?
Of course, we know that not everyone can or will do art that at first glance (or even close inspection) appears simple. It takes intuition and skill to pull off a great book, even if it doesn’t take a realist painter. The pigeon books—and much other of Willem’s works—are ubiquitous for a few reasons, one of them being the calming, easy-going pictures.
Another reason is the stories, which I can happily say are by the self-same person who does the illustrating. Sure, there are plenty of picture books where the author-illustrator team worked out, even if it was put together by publishers, but I really enjoy a holistic product that went from conception to fruition largely in one artist’s mind and talents. The stories of Willem’s that I have read so far share the same deceptively simple feel, where you think, “I could have written this,” and yet, are original and very flowing. With child-appropriate words and concepts, we are whisked off into every-day imaginings, and sometimes forget the language because it is so careful.
But we don’t forget the dialogue. Because the pigeon often screams. Or pouts. Or whines. He is such a silly and moody pigeon. Speaking in dialogue bubbles, sometimes right at us, we get to know this pigeon and his cajoling ways. (Don’t be deceived by this childishness, though. The pigeon and Willem’s other characters all have a decidedly adult quality about them.)
Here are the pigeon books, and I don’t know that they have any particular order to them:
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
- The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!
- The Pigeon Wants a Puppy!
- The Duckling Gets a Cookie?!
- The Pigeon Needs a Bath!
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book!
Mo Willems, I am told, may be most well-known for his Early Reader Elephant & Piggie books, although I see the pigeon everywhere. In the Elephant & Piggie series, Willems was writing children’s book about emotions, friendship, and even the differences and unity between species, genders, races, or ethnicities. Since 2007, he has written and illustrated around 50 books, and the Elephant & Piggie books—at 25—ended in 2012. Many of Willems’ books have been New York Times best sellers and have made his brand very recognizable.
Willems strikes me as the real-deal artist, perhaps sometimes too much so, but also introspective about his work and willing to make it for people… children even. I appreciate his adult-like but child-engaging sense of story and humor. And you can check out more about the author and what he is up to HERE, at Mo Willems dot com.
I read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and The Duckling Gets a Cookie?!, by Mo Willems, published by Hyperion Books in 2003 and 2012.