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Mo Willems has become THE master of easy readers. With pre-book work includes Sesame Street and animation, he had the perfect training to create child- and teacher-friendly easy readers. I think he deserves every one of his many awards. What do notice in this deceptively simple book? What does he do with simple shapes and lines in the art and very few words to create distinct characters? Would you share this book with children who are learning to read?
(Note to the Mo fans out there: I recommended a road trip to Amherst MA to visit the Eric Carle Museum. While you are out there, save some time to visit the R. Michelson Gallery in Northhampton where you can see — and buy — original Mo Willems sketches of Elephant and Piggie.)
I'm back with a few more recent moments in my daughter's journey towards literacy (and hopefully towards the love of books). She'll be four in about 2 months, and she is developing a few early literacy skills. These days she is:
Appreciating new formats: We read Herve Tullet's Press Here together for the first time the other night. I learned that Press Here is actually not the best bedtime book. It is too exciting and interactive. But my daughter adores it! I also discovered that Press Here is even better than I thought it was when I reviewed it a couple of years ago. By mid-way through the book on our first reading, my daughter could anticipate what the book was going to ask her to do next, and was eager to do it. She was excited and engaged, and couldn't wait to read the book again with my husband. That is a successful book. Baby Bookworm's take: "This is a really crazy book!" (said with admiration).
Making Connections between Books and Life: On her first wearing of a new dress received from Nana, my daughter said: "I love it already." Then she laughed. "Just like Penny." She was, of course, referencing Penny and Her Doll, by Kevin Henkes. Penny receives a new doll from her grandmother, and says right away: "I love it already."
Playing with Language: after reading Cool Dog, School Dog by Deborah Heiligman and Tim Bowers, my daughter wanted to make up her own rhymes in the same rhyming scheme ("Tinka is a fun dog, / a sun dog, / a run-and run-and-run dog."). Her results were not eloquent, perhaps, but I liked that she understood that there was a scheme, and wanted to try to follow it. I wish I had written some of them down.
Acting Out Books: We regularly act out scenes from Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton's Bear and Mouse books, and add our own Bear and Mouse scenes. She's pretty good at channeling Bear.
Learning New Vocabulary (Painlessly): I mentioned that it was drizzling as we drove to school the other day, and asked her if she knew what the word "drizzle" meant. She said, "Of course. Brother and Sister were at school one day and they couldn't play outside because it was drizzling." She was clearly referring to some Berenstain Bears story, though I don't know which one. She talks about Brother and Sister Bear as though they are people she knows.
Assessing and Recommending Books: She just came in to show me the book that her babysitter had read to her, The Berenstain Bears Come Clean for School, a new selection from the library. She flipped it open to tell me what happened on the last page (something involving everyone washing their hands), and pronounced "It's pretty funny. Did you hear me laughing?"
Recognizing Authors: The other night my daughter said, pointing to the stack of books we had selected: "I want to read the Mo Willems book, Mom." I'm not at all surprised that Mo is the first author that she recognizes. He does a nice job of linking his books together. (The Pigeon makes cameos in other books, for instance.) This particular title was an Elephant & Piggie book, Elephants Cannot Dance.
My conclusion from tracking these little book-filled moments is this: the path to literacy can be an awfully fun place. Thanks for sharing it with us!
This is probably going to be of the most interest to those of you who have an interest in comic book inking in general. Paul Karasik, who is the head of programming for Comic Arts Brooklyn, interviewed Jeff Smith while he (the creator of the Bone graphic novel series) inked a Bone illustration for the audience. I admit it. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff.
Thanks to Phil Nel for the link.
Someday I hope I’m a big enough picture book author that I’m able to encourage grown people to put tacos down their pants. It’s a dream, but I think it’s one worth pursuing. Note: Ignore the contest mention at the end. The date is long past, children. Long past.
Thanks to Lori for the link (and for starring in it!).
We had the pleasure of hosting French illustrator Marc Boutavant at a recent Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL last month. He is, as you may know, the man behind the art of Mouk, his best known picture book creation. There is, in fact, a Mouk television show debuting here. I, for my part, much prefer the French. The intro is just doggone charming. Can’t vouch for the show itself, but dig that catchy rhythm:
Speaking of television shows based on works of children’s literature, I was inordinately pleased to hear that they were turning Michael Rex’s Fangbone into a show of its own. Makes perfect sense. They’ve a fun little video element up right now where kids can vote on the animated voices and background sounds. Enjoy!
Oh yeah. This next guy’s embraced his time in France.
Probably fits in like a native.
I was pleased to see this Steve Jenkins video for his latest collage masterpiece The Animal Book making the rounds. If only because it gives you insight into how he creates his art.
Finally, for our off-topic video, a commercial. A blatant, sentimental commercial. And danged if it didn’t make me well-up. I must be getting soft in my old age.
I have read many picture books aloud to my daughter over the past 3 1/2 years. Prior to that I read books to my nieces and friends' children here and there. But until last weekend, I'd never done a read-aloud for a larger group. But when the organizers for my church's Mommy and Me group asked me if I would do a little storytime for the kids as part of one of our regular monthly playdates, I said "Of course!" How could a determined bookworm-grower refuse such an invitation?
I sought out input from my Facebook friends (many of whom are librarians and teachers). With their help, I settled on Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and Ann Wilsdorf and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. (It seemed especially fitting that our copy of the Pigeon book was a baby gift from Donalyn Miller, Book Whisperer and co-founder of The Nerdy Book Club.)
The reading took place at a local park, with the kids and their moms gathered around a picnic table. And I thought that it was quite successful. The kids ranged from 18 months up to about 8. One of the older girls recited Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus along with me, line by line, which was fun. And the 18 month old hung on to every word, however much he actually understood. With Sophie's Squash, we talked about what happens when one keeps a vegetable around for too long, and I think that at least the older kids and their moms appreciated the clever and heart-warming ending. I had some good talks about children's books and reading with a couple of the moms afterward, too.
Bottom line: I do believe we'll try this again! Fun was had by all, especially me. My thanks to the Social Club of the St. Andrew Armenian Church for inviting me to read, and to Ani Yeni-Komshian for the above photo.
Willems and his team worked on the show “for almost a year now in semi-secrecy.” In addition to penning the story for this show, they developed a trio of back-up singers, “The Squirrelles!,” and a live band, “Dr. Cat & the Bear-a-Tones.”
Elephant and Piggie: I Broke My Trunk – Mo Willems
Gerald is careful. Piggie is not. Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can. Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to. Gerald and Piggie are best friends. In I Broke My Trunk! Gerald tells Piggie the long, crazy story about breaking his trunk. Will Piggie end up with a long, crazy story of her own? Another hilarious escapade starring the Geisel Award-winning duo & vetted by an early-learning specialist
Yoko’s Paper Cranes – Rosemary Wells
Ever since Yoko moved with her Mama from Japan, she misses her Obaasan and Ojiisan (her grandma and grandpa) very much. She especially misses doing origami with them. Luckily, Yoko knows just what to do for Obaasan’s birthday. Yoko’s Paper Cranes is a story about making paper cranes and letting them fly with your heart to those you love, even if they are thousands of miles away.
Un Alce, Veinte Ratones – Clare Beaton
Count the animals from one to twenty while searching for the cat in this lively hide-and-seek selection that introduces animals like frogs, whales, monkeys, ducks, hens and elephants. (Spanish language edition)
Healthy Kids – Maya Ajmera
Photographs showcase the many ways kids around the world can be healthy.
Officer Buckle and Gloria – Peggy Rathmann
Officer Buckle knows more about safety than anyone else in Napville, but his dull presentations put his audiences to sleep. Enter Gloria, Napville’s new police dog. Gloria knows just how to liven up the safety speeches – as long as Officer Buckle’s back is turned! Full color.
Daniel’s Mystery Egg (Bilingual) – Alma Flor Ada
Daniel encuentra en huevo. ¿Qué animal saldrá de aquí?
Daniel finds an egg. What kind of animal will it hatch?
Jack and Annie are on their second mission to find—and inspire—artists to bring happiness to millions. After traveling to New Orleans, Jack and Annie come head to head with some real ghosts, as well as discover the world of jazz when they meet a young Louis Armstrong!
The Duckling asks for a cookie – and gets one! Do you think the Pigeon is happy about that?
Very Hungry Caterpillar (Bilingual) – Eric Carle
Eric Carle’s classic story is now available as First Book’s newest BILINGUAL First Book Marketplace Special Edition.This bilingual edition is available exclusively through the First Book Marketplace!
Piggie Pie! – Margie Palatini and Howard Fine
Gritch the Witch wants piggies for dinner, but when she shows up at Old MacDonald’s farm, the pigs go undercover.
Drummer Hoff (Stories to Go!) – Barbara Emberley
DRUMMER HOFF is a lively folk verse all about the building of a cannon. Brightly dressed in full uniform, each soldier brings a part for the remarkable machine. Corporal Farrell brings the barrel, Sergeant Chowder brings the powder, General Border gives the order-but it’s Drummer Hoff who finally fires it off and explodes the whole rhyme.
Taking his inspiration from the silent film era, Mo Willems has crafted another winner. His latest picture book is set up to resemble a silent movie with the wolf cast in the role of villain. Playing the leading lady--make that leading bird--is a seemingly sweet, trusting goose. Spread by spread, the wolf tempts her nearer and nearer to his home in the woods. The journey is interrupted at regular intervals by a chorus of goslings who warn at increasingly higher and higher decibels that their hookup is not a good idea. But whom exactly are they warning?
As always, Willems knows how to pace a suspenseful tale, and his bold illustrations, especially those which highlight his character's expressive faces, add to the unfolding drama. Young readers might be savvy enough to see the twist that lies ahead--but this mature reader certainty didn't!
That Is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo Willems Balzer + Bray 48 pages Published: May 2013
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The Irma Black Award, given by The Bank Street School, is unusual in that children are the final judges of the winning book. This year’s award went to Big Mean Mike, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Scott Magoon. More than 7,500 first and second graders around the world voted Big Mean Mike as their clear favorite.
There were three other Irma Black honor books, also chosen by kids themselves:
The Cook Prize medal, designed by Brian Floca
Children also choose The Cook Prize winners, sponsored by The Bank Street School: The best science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) picture books published for children aged eight to ten. This year’s winner is:
The spirit of friendship and the power of reading were in full force at Peck Full Service Community School, a Title I School in Holyoke, MA, yesterday.
The school eagerly awaited the arrival of beloved children’s author and illustrator, Mo Willems: Elephant and Piggie posters decorated the hallways and windows of the school while the receptionist tried her hand at sketching the characters, and every available Mo Willems book was checked out of the school library.
As second-grade students entered the library to celebrate Friendiversary with Mo Willems himself, costumed Elephant and Piggie characters greeted the students at door. After a grand entrance, Mo read two of his books – There Is A Bird on Your Head! and I Am Invited To a Party! He then conducted a Q&A with the second graders who asked him all sorts of questions. “Why did you work for Cartoon Network?” asked one of the students. “Do you have a pet pigeon?” asked another.
Mo then informed the second graders that they would each be taking home their very own Friendiversary book and the library erupted with deafening screams of excitement. Students immediately began opening their books, each of which were personally signed by Mo. Smiles were on every face and many were sharing and showing their books to friends.
Friendiversary doesn’t have to be celebrated in February, it can be celebrated at any time of the year! Here’s how you can throw your very own Friendiversary party:
Read together with friends and celebrate Friendiversary, an annual celebration of friendship and reading.
At First Book, we love celebrating Friendiversary each year, partly because we love Mo Willems, but mostly because it’s one more way to get new, quality books into the hands of kids in need, and seeing those kids become excited readers is what we’re all about.
For the third year in a row, our friend Mo Willems, beloved children’s author & illustrator, will be providing brand-new Elephant & Piggie books and activity kits to kids in need!
The books and activity kits will go to second grade students in New Orleans, Springfield and Holyoke, Mass. (These places have special meaning for Mo; he grew up in New Orleans and now resides in Massachusetts.)
Mo’s Elephant & Piggie characters inspired First Book to create Friendiversary, an annual celebration of friendship and reading. After all, who better exemplifies the meaning of friendship than Elephant & Piggie?
You can help second-graders across the country celebrate Friendiversary on Feb. 26! Click here to donate.
For every $33 donated, 10 second grade students will receive their own Mo Willems books and activity kits for the celebration.
Almost the moment Mo Willems' keynote speech ended, people started lining up to get their books signed and we kid you not, the line ran the length of a football field (that's 100 yards, for those of you unfamiliar with the sport, or 91.44 meters if you're Canadian).
It's no wonder people are so excited to have their books inscribed, when you share the room with the likes of Julie Andrews, Mo Willems, Shaun Tan, Jane Yolen, Tomie dePaolo ...
We could and should go on, but we'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Shaun Tan fans standing in a queue (do they say that in Australia?)
Mark Teague and Floyd Cooper
Meg Rosoff and David Ezra Stein
Lin Oliver and Theo Baker
Tomie DePaola and Jane Yolen
Margaret Peterson Haddix and Matthew Kirby
Arthur Levine is a full-service editor. Here, he's opening the book to the right page for an inscription.
Don't let the pigeon drive the bus, but do let Mo Willems give the closing keynote at a conference weekend full of icons and inspiration!
Mo has six Emmys, Three Caldecott honors, three Geisel medals and as Lin says in her introduction, "He is the phenom of our business"
He cautions us that writers are filters, not spigots. "Be a filter, don't be a spigot." So here are a few of the filtered highlights of Mo's keynote:
"We're not trying to make stories that are going to be read, we're trying to make stories that are going to be read a millionty billionty times."
Three of his 9 tips:
*Be succinct. 'Nuff said. *You may own your story's copyright but you don't own its meaning *Be Superlative
"I've dreamed that everything I write will change the world for the better." If you're just dreaming of being published, dream bigger.
Always start your illustrations in the middle (to kind of warm up) and save the cover and opening spreads for the end (when you're in the zone and it's flowing) - because those are the first ones people will read!
Mo is funny, irreverent, insightful, sharing advice and stories, showing us the difference between a hook and a story - while people are crying/laughing, laughing/crying - telling us which is his most personal book, the truth about 'write what you know' (don't do it - write to discover what you don't know), giving us a bunch of great illustration tips and career tips, and so much more...
And perhaps most magically, this is the filtered line that's resonating for me...
"Your job is to be [through your books] some child's best friend."
If you were invited to design a school library launch, how would you go about it? What events would you want to facilitate? Who would you want to involve?
These questions have been very much on my mind since the start of the year, for designing and delivering a school library launch is exactly what I have been asked to do by a local infant school. Can you imagine how excited I feel?
It’s an honour to be asked and trusted by the school to design a whole day of activities and I’ve loved every minute of it so far. Library Launch day is February 12th and now we’re counting down the days…
With apologies to NASA, whose original image I’ve modified.
Having got to the stage where I’ve everything prepped and in place, I wanted to share my plans and resources with you as many of them are easily replicable in families, in classrooms, in clubs, anywhere would you might like to help young children and their families get excited about books. And with World Book Day coming up next month, you could take any of these ideas and use them to celebrate perhaps my favourite day of the year
Today I’ll share the activities the 3-5 year olds will be getting up to, and next week I’ll share the session plans for Year 1 (5-6 year olds) and Year 2 (6-7 year olds), although I believe many of the activities could be adapted to work with children of any age.
We were keen to get as many children into the new library during the day as possible so each class of 3-5 year olds will spend one session going on a treasure hunt for book characters in the library. The basis of this session with be Katie Cleminson’s Otto the Book Bear, in which a bear in a book steps off the pages and into real life. Having read the book, kids (in pairs) will be given a treasure card to identify which books and book characters they need to find in the library.
Some of the sheets of cards kids will be given so they know which characters to hunt for in the library
No doubt 30 kids hunting 30 soft toys is going to be quite chaotic! Once all the characters are found, the session will finish with a reading of one of the books found by the kids during the session.
A couple of trips to charity shops resulted in a good number of soft toys that either were actual book characters (for example I found Paddington Bear, Pooh, and Poppy Cat without even really looking), then I raided my kids’ soft toys and chose ones which matched (near enough) great books. So, for example, I am borrowing a soft toy squirrel and teaming it up with A First Book of Nature, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld.
I supplemented these with a few extra official character soft toys (who wouldn’t love the excuse to get a Mog cat or Tiger who came tea toy?). Castlemere Books, based in the US, is the most comprehensive site I found for official book character soft toys, though I didn’t end up using them because of shipping costs to the UK.
Some of the characters kids will be searching for in the library!
On returning to their classrooms the kids will paint/colour their own bookshelves and Otto the bear. You can download the shelves here and the bear here.
The second session will be based around Lulu loves Stories by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw (follow the link to read it for free online). This is a gentle story about a child who is taken to the library every Saturday by her father. Each book they read together inspires different sorts of play, from being on a farm (having read about Old Macdonald) to making a pretend aeroplane (having read a story about going on an adventure).
Each table in the classroom will be set up with a different activity taken from Lulu Loves Stories: there will be one with princess dressing up, one with farm animals and one with construction toys. A fourth table will be set up for each child to create their own library to take home, by selecting and gluing lots of images of children’s book covers onto these shelves.
I’ve spent a fair few evenings cutting up old publishers’ catalogues to create enough “library stock”, but other than time in preparation, this activity has been very cheap to prepare with many publishers willing to send catalogues upon request. (If you were working with older kids you could simply give them the catalogues and ask them to do some fantasy shopping – seeing what books they themselves would chose for their library would no doubt be very informative.)
On a fifth table children will be able to cut out Lulu bookplates. These are available as part of an activity guide on the US publisher’s website. Don’t be confused by the name change – Lulu (in the UK) becomes known as Lola (in the US), but this doesn’t affect the bookplates.
This session will be rounded off by reading Lulu reads to Zeki also by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw, which is a simply delightful (and funny) window into a later stage in Lulu’s life;she now has a younger brother, and is passing on the love of books her father instilled in her to little Zeki, reading to him whenever possible.
The third session for the 3-5 year olds will open with a reading of I Love My Little Story Book by Anita Jeram, which is all about the delights you can find inside different books, and the various places they can transport you to.
Each child will have the opportunity to make their own bunny which comes with a hidden story book of its own. It’s a simple collage activity to make the bunny out of an envelope, a pompom, some dried spaghetti, googly eyes and cardboard ears, all stuck on to an envelope, inside which each child will find a blank mini book (blue to match the one in the story). Kids will be encouraged to make the story book their own with whatever mark-making they like.
The mini books are each made from a sheet of A4 paper, using this technique, my favourite way of making small paper books as it requires no sticking or stapling.
As well as there being tables set up with fairy tale activities (castles and knights to play with, dressing up, plastic animals in a forest play scene) kids will also be able to colour in and cut out several book plates designed by Anita Jeram.
These are all available to freely download (as long as you’re not using them for commercial purposes) from this brilliant website, http://www.myhomelibrary.org/, created by former Children’s Laureate, Anne Fine.
If time allows a reading of I like books by Anthony Browne will finish off this session. This is a very simple introduction to different types of books with just one sentence on each page. It’s a great reminder that there are all different sorts of books you can enjoy reading, not just story books.
The fourth session of the day will be based around an all time classic, Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Once the story has been shared, each child will be given their own cardboard treasure chest to embellish with sticky jewels. I sourced some great treasure chests (from http://www.littlecraftybugs.co.uk/) so large that kids will be able to store favourite books inside them.
This session will be wrapped up with a reading of We are in a book by Mo Willems – a perfect book for this age range where the oldest kids may well be able to join in with reading this funny story about what characters in a book think about their readers.
And as well as all of this, all classes will have a session with the award winning author who is coming to join the school for the day… but more about this in a later post!
Ah...Mo Willems. Always good for a belly laugh. Though I really love his Pigeon books, his stand-alone stories, in my opinion, have really been his best and this latest, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs made me snort-laugh. Always a good sign.
The riff on the traditional Goldilocks and the Three Bears is totally silly, as the three dinosaurs lay the perfect trap for a delicious, succulent little girl. Readers are in on the joke, making for great anticipation as the end draws near, trying to decide whether or not Goldilocks will become a yummy snack for a few sneaky dinosaurs.
If you're looking for a fun new book to use at story time, look no further. Bold illustrations and a hilariously fractured fairy tale made this one a winner for me. Loved it!
Bunch of books have to go back today; before they go, a quick catalog of the ones my gang loved:
Gideon by Olivier Dunrea, from the Gossie & Friends series.
Huck enjoyed this short, simple story about a gosling who isn’t quite ready to take his nap. A repeat request, usually as a stall tactic at naptime. Sweet art; pleasingly small trim size. A good library choice, since Huck, at a month shy of four (eek), is on the top end of the age range this book is likely to appeal to.
A leveled reader that enchanted all three of my youngest. The homey adventures of imaginative twin girls with very different personalities. The making-dumplings chapter is Rilla’s favorite. She’s hoping for more Ling and Ting tales.
This early reader scored especially high with my boys. Huck’s an easy mark: you had him at “Robot.” Wonderboy was amused by the way Robot upended Rabbit’s careful sleepover plans. Plus: Magnetic hands! A lost remote control! A snack of nuts and bolts! And poor, flustered Rabbit, worrying about sticking to his schedule—a character Wonderboy can very much relate to. I might snag a copy of this one to keep.
The literary community has created a number of relief efforts after the destruction of Hurricane Sandy.
If you want to help, you bid at the Kidlit Cares auction raising relief funds. Some of the items include Skype author visits with Elephant & Piggie author Mo Willems, Speak author Laurie Halse Anderon and Divergent author Veronica Roth. Nonprofit group First Book is asking for donations so that they can give new books to children affected by the storm.
Check out NYCService.org to learn about ways to help out in the New York City area. For the readers who don’t live nearby, but want to come out to the East Coast to volunteer, travel service Airbnb is offering fee-free rentals until November 7th.
About the author:
A three-time Caldecott Honor winner for Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, Mo Willems has also won two Geisel Medals for There is a Bird on Your Head! and Are You Ready to Play Outside? and his books are perennial New York Times bestsellers. Before he turned to children’s books, Mo was a writer and animator on Sesame Street, where he won six Emmy Awards. Mo lives with his family in Massachusetts.
About the book (from Amazon.com):
Gerald is careful. Piggie is not. Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can. Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to. Gerald and Piggie are best friends. In Listen to My Trumpet! Piggie can’t wait to play her new instrument for Gerald! But is she ready to listen to his reaction?
My take on the book:
If you’ve followed Book Dads, you know we are big fans of Mo Willems and Elephant and Piggie. I enjoy reading all of Elephant and Piggie books with my daughter, and it’s hard to pick a favorite. Depending on the day you ask me, I would probably say the name of the last one we read together. Right now, our very favorite is “Listen to My Trumpet.” It has my daughter giggling almost from the very beginning. And when I say giggle, I mean full-out belly giggles. It’s just fantastic fun. I read this at the story time I do at the local library and the parents were laughing as much as the kids were. I can’t recommend this series enough. We’re slowly collecting the series and look forward to Mo’s next release!
#7 Knuffle Bunny, A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems (2004)
These perfect pictures of New York City complement the family tale of Daddy who is wrong, wrong, wrong, and Trixie, who is totally right, but can’t yet say words to tell him. Heartwarming and hilarious. – Diantha McBride
And this is the book that sealed that obsession evermore. Mo-tastic. - Pam Coughlan
There have been others, and they are just as good, but this one still makes all of us smile (and my youngest is six now). Sometimes, the first one is still the best. - Melissa Fox
This may be a shocking inclusion on the Top 10 list to some, but for others they might remember that last time I conducted this poll Knuffle Bunny came in at a reasonable #10. Now it moves up three spots, which may owe as much to its continued popularity as to the success of its subsequent sequels. I do wonder if even Mr. Mo knew that Trixie would gain a trilogy out of the tale of one lost bunny.
The plot from my old review reads, “Trixie and her pop are off to the local neighborhood Laundromat one bright and sunny day. They get there, load the clothes, and take off for home when little Trixie comes to an awful realization. Knuffle Bunny, her beloved favorite toy, is missing. Unfortunately for her, she has not yet learned to talk. After some valiant tries (my favorite being the single tearful ’snurp’) she feels she has no alternative but to burst into a full-blown tantrum. This doesn’t make her father any happier and since he hasn’t realized what the problem is, he takes her home as she kicks and screams. Once home, however, her mother quickly asks, ‘Where’s Knuffle Bunny’? Back runs the whole family to the Laundromat where, at long last, the beloved bunny is recovered and Trixie says her first real words.”
Its origin story is rooted in a happy accident. Alessandra Balzer (of Balzer & Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins) was in an office with Mo and his art director as he vaguely told a story about his daughter. Alessandra insisted that he turn the story into a book, so he went home to try. He’d done a comic about his family for a DC comics anthology but, as he says in Leonard Marcus’s book Show Me a Story: Why Picture Books Matter, “the characters weren’t popping and I couldn’t get it to work. Then one of my drawings accidentally fell on top of one of the photographs on my light box, and I suddenly had the idea to combine the two.” That distinctive look is part of what sets KB apart from the pack. He result is that Willems believes that by combining drawings with photos “They’re purer than more realistic drawings of the character would have been, because their design focuses on their emotional side.”
Mo spoke at a SCBWI conference in the Pacific Northwest about five or six years ago. At the time he discussed the fact that Knuffle Bunny was the first Caldecott Honor winner to contain photography in any way, shape, or form. He’s been asked since then why he made such a “bold” choice. The fact of the matter, though, is that he partly saw it as a time saver. Of course, once he got into it he didn’t realize the amount of soul-sucking hours it would take to resize the characters so that they’d be proportional within their photographic environment. As it happens, the result is that he managed to create one of the only (perhaps THE only?) Caldecott Honor winners to incorporate photography into its images.
Said Horn Book, “There’s plenty here for kids to embrace. There are playful illustrations and a simple, satisfy
Thanks to the very generous folk at Walker Books I got to do something which makes me very happy earlier this week – read aloud lots of fabulous picture books with friends and their kids, and then give the books away, all part of a Picture Book Picnic…
The day started early, baking “Walker Bear” Gingerbread biscuits…
With the first of our “emergency supplies” ready for scoffing, we got to to the main business of the day – reading together!
Full of chocolate chip cookies (we used this recipe) and cold milk I then read How to Get a Job by me The Boss, actually by Sally Lloyd-Jones & Sue Heap. After a long conversation about what everyone wanted to be when they grew up, I interviewed the kids for the post of Explorer. All the kids sailed through their interviews (Do you like being outdoors? Yes! Are you afraid of snakes? No! Do you like climbing trees? Yes!) and so we got down the map of our local area and off we set on our bikes to have an adventure.
We set up our first camp by a sunny stream, perfect for a reading of Arthur’s Dream Boat by Polly Dunbar.
After the story we made paper boats and floated them off down the river.
Sometimes it’s nice to take a little peek into the work of some of the world’s most successful authors, and in the coming months I’ll be adding a post or two on authors and illustrators I personally admire, and who continue to delight children (and adults) with their impressive line-up of work. In this first post, I’ll be revealing a little more about Mo Willems – a US author whose Knuffle Bunny books had me in stitches when my kids were really little. I hope you enjoy this profile. Email me with your author profile suggestions . . . who would you like to know more about?
Mo Willems was raised in New Orleans. He studied at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and when he was done, he travelled the world, drawing a carton every day. This work was later published in the book You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons.
Mo began his career as a writer and animator for Sesame Street. He also performed stand up comedy in NYC and recorded essays for BBC Radio. Mo has worked for The Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, and has created two animated TV series – The Off-Beats and Sheep in the Big City.
His Elephant and Piggie books, an early reader series about a friendly elephant and pig, are a huge hit with the littlies, and Elephant and Piggie won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal in 2008 and 2009, and a Geisel Honor in 2011.
In 2010, Mo began writing a new series of books featuring Cat the Cat, also aimed at early readers.
Mo’s books have been translated into many languages. They have even spawned animated shorts and have been developed into musical productions. His work, including illustrations, wire sculpture and ceramics have been shown in exhibitions all over the US.
Mo married his wife Cheryl Camp in 1997 and now lives in Masschusetts.
I know some schools are already back hard at work, but we’ve got another couple of weeks before term starts for us, so here’s one more round up of activity sheets available for free from children’s authors and illustrators.
Click on the relevant image or coloured link to be taken to activity sheets you can download.
This information was gathered from the New York Times Best Sellers list, which reflects the sales of books from books sold nationwide, including independent and chain stores. It is correct at the time of publication and presented in random order. Visit: www.nytimes.com.
This pile might be two visits worth of books. The Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie series is a huge hit right now with my 3yo. We've also been reading lots of Oliver Jeffers - although The Incredible Book Eating Boy remains my son's favorite (I couldn't pick, really).
Reading Mo Willem's latest picture book, I had flashbacks to when I was a kid watching the hilarious Fractured Fairytales from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. A vivid memory is my father laughing even harder than me or my sisters. Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs will likewise appeal to grown-ups as much as their offspring, which is a good thing as parents will probably be reading it aloud a lot.
Willems tweaks the familiar storyline so that Goldilocks is the victim and not the callous housebreaker of the Grimm version. The dinosaurs lure "a poorly supervised little girl named Goldilocks" to their home by preparing chocolate pudding and leaving the front door unlocked. What will keep kids chuckling is that the dinosaurs' nefarious plans are never directly stated. In fact, Willems goes out of this way to assure young readers that the dinosaurs "were definitely not hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting kid to come by." The heavy-handed irony is consistent throughout the book and provides much of the humor. The more Willems insists the dinosaurs mean no harm, the more obvious it becomes that they do.
The illustrations give some of the best laughs. There's the door mat with the words "Tee-Hee" in parentheses under "Welcome" that Goldilocks blithely skips over. Or the telephone with an extremely long receiver designed to fit the dinosaurs' huge heads. Even the endpapers continue the fun. Willems has filled them with alternative ideas for titles, such as "Goldilocks and the Three Prairie Dogs," "Goldilocks and the Three Naked Mole Rats," or my favorite, "Goldilocks and the Three Wall Street Types." Now there's a scary fairy tale!
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems Balzer + Bray, 40 pages Published: September 2012