24 June 2009

Can I Have Some Mo?

My favorite author/illustrator for young readers right now is Mo Willems. He has written a number of award winning children's books recently, but that isn't why I like him. I like him because his books make Isaac laugh. And they make me laugh, too.

Willems' books look simplistic when you first open them, but they have a depth to them that will surprise you. He is able to put more expression into his characters with his simple line drawings than many illustrators can with much more complicated art work. His characters are real, to children and adults. Kids laugh at the Pigeon throwing a temper tantrum because tantrums are funny. Parents and teachers laugh at the Pigeon's histrionics because we have been there and done that more times than we want to admit. Children laugh at Willems' characters. Adults laugh with Willems because we get the joke.

My favorite Willems book is Leonardo The Terrible Monster. It is poignant and cute and funny and very, very readable. It is my favorite of Willems' books to read out loud to classes and has a wonderful lesson about friendship and self-acceptance. Willems doesn't dumb down his vocabulary and he isn't afraid to use wordplay and puns in his books for young children. He respects and understands kids and that comes across in his writing.

Why will boys like his books? Boys like silly characters and absurd situations and Willems delivers both. The illustrations are simple so the pictures do not overwhelm the story or distract from the humor. And young boys will relate to his characters, even the female ones, because they are ultimately just like them or someone they know. There is no use denying it. We all have a bit of the Pigeon in us.

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