Midterm Paper: Mo Willems Searching through the rows of picture books on the library shelves, I was caught by the gaze of a stick-figured pigeon. Initially I had another illustrator in mind, however the pigeon had me transfixed and I had to write about Mo Willems. Amazingly, the same pigeon also caught the eye of an editor after numerous rejections for five years and helped Mo Willems publish his first picture book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Hume, 2008). Mo Willems is significant to the field of children’s literature because his experience in this subject is unparalleled.
For nine years he was a writer and animator for Sesame Street and won six Emmy awards for his works on the show (Patton, 2006). The animated television series Sheep in the Big City and The Off-Beats were also his creations as well as being the head writer for Cartoon Network’s Codename: Kids Next Door. (Net Industries, 2008). Even “The New York Times heralded Mo Willems as the biggest talent to emerge in children’s books in the ’00s. ” (Patton, 2006) The two books I chose was the one already mentioned and Edwina: The dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! has won numerous awards: Booklist Editors’ Choice 2003, Caldecott Honour Books 2004, Theodor Seuss Geisel Award and Notable Children’s Books 2004 etc. (Engberg, 2003). I chose to use these two books because both show the simplistic approaches Willems uses for his art in almost a child-like way. One work has garnered much attention whilst the other is less popular, yet both stories have similar humorous enjoyable themes that is easily recognizable for all ages.
In this paper, I argue that Mo Willems illustrations using mediums of crayons, pencils and felts, and using the most elementary methods of drawings to portray his stories captures the essence of childhood. I will draw upon his history of works, analyze his style and themes as well as do a case-study on his first picture book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Mo Willems ideas guiding philosophy throughout his whole career is “Always think about your audience, never think for your audience. (Willems, 2008) He writes for children, therefore he uses methods in which attract children the most. He uses mediums of crayons, pencils, and felts because they are the most accessible tools of art for young kids. His simple drawings are doodles that even a preschooler can easily make. Children can relate to these drawings due to the strong resemblance to their own. Like Horn Book (2003) raved in the review for Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! , his drawings are clean and sparely designed which focuses the attention on the wildly expressive pigeon.
His reasons for wanting to switch to the world of picture books comes from wanting to stay at home and there is a lot more freedom to writing books then for television. (Daily News, 2005). He decided to write books about pigeons because while randomly sketching throughout the years, he would just happen to doodle some pigeons and it kept pestering him that he felt compelled to debut with it. (Daily News, 2005). He is constantly thinking of what will attract his audience and what he needs to do to have the audience attach their own ideas and interpretations.
Willems’ signature style can be summed up in one word, simple. They are not complex, detailed drawings. He finds that children are more engaged with his stories if there is less because children like to use their imaginations to fill in the blanks. (Parent and Child, 2006). He also wants children to be able to be able to copy his drawings, and invite them to play with the main characters instead of a boring picture book where it just tells the story with no interaction. The pigeon in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! s literally a circle with one eye on top of a long neck and then a semicircle for the body with two stick legs holding it up. Even other creatures, such as the normally complex dinosaur in Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct, she is simply elementary geometric shapes constructed together. By using this style, Willems announces boldly that anyone, whether they are the age of 3 or 4, can be illustrators and make their own ideas. The themes Willems bases his story off of are either his family or certain childhood behaviours with added humour.
In Edwina, Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie knows that dinosaurs do not exist. (Willems, 2006). However as a child, when we believe in something, we undeniably have to prove to others that we are right! Therefore Reginald cannot accept the idea that Edwina exists even though everyone else can. We are humorously led through his adventures page after page as he tries to convince the town, however no one will listen. One of the hardest things as a child is when adults treat you like a child. You throw tantrums and try your best to be heard, yet no one listens, just like the townspeople.
In the end, frustrated, Reginald cries out and Edwina is the only one who will listen to him about her extinction even though no one else will. And even though she is supposed to be extinct, she doesn’t care! She is alive and makes the townspeople happy and as Reginald realizes after he tells his story, he does not care either. Children just want to be heard. The picture that best exemplifies Willems technique is Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Willems uses every page from the front cover to the back cover of his picture book to tell his story.
Doonan (1993) states that by playing with the ideas provoked by a work of art, we create something of our own. And that is exactly what Willems does in this picture book. Willems uses crayon drawings throughout the whole book, and the medium itself has cultural associations with childhood art (Doonan, 1993). The pigeon is the center of attention. He repeats in every single page and is the dominant feature in every single page. This reinforces the actions the pigeon is making. The pigeon is contoured by solid black lines, which and give him his precise structure and character (Doonan, 1993).
The way the lines are drawn makes the reader feel like they could easily pick up a pencil and emulate the same and create their own stories from the same character. The texture of crayon when drawn are not completely blended. This gives a sense of childishness. This pigeon indeed acts like a preschooler throwing a temper tantrum (Hyperion, 2003). It is incredible how stick-like figures can portray the feelings so vividly along with the text. The title page starts off with the bus driver telling the reader to not let the pigeon drive the bus.
Willems immediately draws the attention of his readers and engages them in the story. The pigeon begins to plead like a little child wanting something. This is ironic since the book is aimed for the younger audience. Here, Willems is giving the reader a role reversal, they are the adults in this case. Children have the power in this case, something they rarely have, therefore they enjoy it by being in command of the pigeon and talking back to the book such as when the pigeon asks to drive.
The reader tells him no, and the pigeon replies back with “I never get to do anything! “. The pigeon though a simple stick figure, has his head bowed down and you can literally imagine a child [pic] [pic] doing the exact same thing. Even something I usually ignore, such as the publication information, has delightful humorous messages “all rights reserved for humans, not pigeons. ” (Willems,2003). The story ends with the bus driver coming back and like an inside joke he smiles at the reader and says, “you didn’t let the pigeon drive the bus did you? And as he drives away, a red truck appears and the pigeon dreams of the red truck just like in the beginning where he was dreaming about the bus. The story does not end because we can keep thinking up new stories as the pigeon encounters different vehicles. Even without the texts in the story, the pictures itself would have led us along the same impressions. The dominant background color is a mellow beige, however when the pigeon screams to be able to drive the bus, the background turns into an explosive orange. This helps portray the pigeons mood.
The antics of the pigeon are completely human-like and something we can relate to. Conclusively, Mo Willems immerses fully in the world of a child and relates to them through their own modes of instruments. He gives the power to his readers and lets them interact fully without complicated drawings. He lets them draw on their own imaginations while still providing elements of humour and fun to the board. His characters, even though they are rough and 2-d, have robust round characters that people can relate to. He is truly a mastermind in child literature and proves the saying: Simple is Better.
Works Cited BookList. (2003). Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Retrieved October 26, 2008, from http://www. booklistonline. com/default. aspx? page=show_product&pid=1136761 Daily News. (2005, June 18). Author Mo Willems Lets His Imagination Take Wing. Retrieved October 27, 2008, from HighBeam Research web site: http://www. highbeam. com/doc/1G1-133394291. html Doonan, Jane. (1993). Looking At Pictures in Picture Books. Gloucestershire: The Thimble Press Hume, Joan. (May 2008). Mo Willems. Retrieved October 27, 2008, from Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature web site: http://www. estportlibrary. org/rabbithillfestival/authors/willems. html. Hyperion. (2003). Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!. Retreived October 26, 2008, from http://www. hyperionbooksforchildren. com/board/displayBook. asp? id=175 Net Industries Encyclopedia. (2008). Mo Willems Biography. Retrieved October 26, 2008, from http://biography. jrank. org/pages/973/Willems-Mo. html Parent and Child. (2006, October). A Conversation with Mo Willems. Retrieved October 28, 2008, from Scholastic web site: http://www2. scholastic. com/browse/article. jsp? id=7518 ad Crumb=%3Ca+href%3D%22%2Fbrowse%2Fsearch. sp%3Fquery%3DMo+Willems%2 6c1%3DCONTENT30%26c17%3D0%26c2%3Dfalse%22%3EAll+Results+%3C%2Fa%3E Patton, Jessica. (October 2006). Don’t Let the Pigeon Interview Mo Willems. Retrieved October 27, 2008, from Teaching Pre K-8 web site: http://www. teachingk8. com/archives/ author_interview/dont_let_the_pigeon_interview_mo_willems_by_jessica_rae_patt on_ associate_editor. html Willems, Mo. (2003). Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! New York: Hyperion Books Willems, Mo. (2006). Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct. New York: Hyperion Books