Category Archives: Mo Willems

Back to School!

by Katrina Morse
for Family Reading Partnership

Get ready for school! New routines, new friends, and new challenges are part of the school year ahead. Is your child starting a new school or moving up a grade and joining a new classroom? Ease any first-day-of-school jitters by reading stories about what school might by like and talking about your child’s feelings.

The characters in books often have the same feelings that your child may have, so reading a book together can give you and your child ideas and the words to talk about and overcome any worries.

Sharing any book with your child also adds to their personal sense of security. Sitting together and giving your attention to your child as you read aloud shows them that you support them, care for them, and love them. It helps your child feel confident enough to try new things, which they will be doing all school year long.

Here are some books to read before the big first day:

“On the First Day of Kindergarten” by Tish Rabe, illustrated by Laura Hughes. Count all the fun first days of kindergarten, starting right on day one. You will see how many exciting things happen in school, like making new friends, painting, running a race, and counting. Upbeat and engaging with a diverse classroom of children depicted in the illustrations.

“The Pigeon HAS to Go to School” by Mo Willems. Pigeon cannot believe he has to start school. He already knows everything and doesn’t want to make new friends. What is school about anyway? He just doesn’t want to go! If your child already loves Mo Willems’ books, this is going to be another winner in your family. If you have yet to meet Pigeon–and Elephant and Piggie–in other Willems’ books, you are in for a treat, and some laughs! Pigeon has many of the same fears as any child about going to school, but your child can giggle at Pigeon’s overblow reactions.

“Monsters Love School,” by Mike Austin. A little monster named Blue is anxious and worried about going to school. He wonders, “What do you eat at school? What do you learn? What about friends?” Adults and teachers are reassuring at every turn during Blue’s first school day. From the art teacher, to the school lunch worker, to the gym teacher he hears the same messages, “School is for trying new things. You’ll meet new friends. You’ll like school!” Told with humor and light-heartedness, this story will be a comfort to a Pre-K or kindergarten child before their first day at a new school.

“Planet Kindergarten” by Sue Ganz-Schmitt, illustrated by Shane Prigmore. Put on your helmet and get ready to blast off to a classroom. This story creates an outer space adventure of going to school. Starting with a flight plan for the journey, school as a space capsule, and fellow students as the crew, the playful story reveals that the main astronaut is a bit worried about the trip. Cute and clever, the story ends with the young space-goer back on his original planet with a splashdown (in the bathtub) in the comfort of his own home.

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Filed under back to school, benefits of reading together, family reading, Feelings, Mo Willems, opportunities for conversation

The Story of Mo Willems

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Did you ever know a kid in school who was always doodling during class? The margins of their papers filled up each day with patterns, wandering lines, and zany characters.

Now-famous children’s book author and illustrator Mo Willems, started out just that way. Doodling and drawing cartoons in school and at home in New Orleans, Willems was one of those kids who couldn’t stop creating and loved using his imagination. He drew, wrote stories, acted and even directed plays in his elementary and high school days and then as an adult tried his hand at stand up comedy.

After moving to New York City, Willems went on to create animation and write for children’s television, including Nickelodeon, and won Emmy awards for Sesame Street pieces. He eventually made his break into the children’s book world in 2003 with his book, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.” From there Willems has been busily creating books for children and accumulating multiple honors and awards including the Caldecott Medal for illustration, the Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal for beginning readers books, and Carnegie Medal for excellence in children’s videos of his stories.

Willems’ style of illustration reflects his long history of cartooning. His characters are simple drawings in black line. Emotions are shown exaggerated in facial expressions and body language. Backgrounds are one or two flat colors or actual photographs. He has more than 50 published children’s books, many of which are parts of a series of stories incorporating kid-generated predicaments and humorous scenarios.

The “Knuffle Bunny” series stars a young girl named Trixie (like his own daughter) in a big city dragging around her stuffed bunny, who suffers some unfortunate mishaps in each book.

The Pigeon series features a whiny pigeon acting very much like a preschooler. He pleads, gets worried, is demanding, dramatic, and thankful too. Pigeon speaks directly to the reader of the book in each story, asking for help in getting what he wants. In this way the reader/listener is also part of the story.

Elephant and Piggie books are especially for children learning to read independently,with reading strategies embedded into the story. Each book has many “sight” words, that is, words that are used in literature frequently that children can learn just by seeing them over and over. There are a limited number of different words in each book and those words are easily decoded using phonics, or “sounding out.” The illustrations give clues to help children figure out hard words, so can be used as an additional strategy to help understand the story.

Now a stay-home dad and full-time author/illustrator, Willems lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with his wife Cher and teen aged daughter Trixie. His newest series, “Cat the Cat,” made its appearance in 2010. To the delight of his young fans, Willems is still creating and publishing children’s books and has posted many videos of his stories, riding the wave of his past 15 years of success.

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Filed under author spotlight, Early Readers, Mo Willems