As I’ve previously noted, What should we read? is a simple question that [thankfully] has tens of thousands of correct answers. But when in libraries filled with options, in bookstores stacked high with interesting looking reads, on online book retailer sites filled with innumerable titles, how is one to know what to read?
Picture books—typically targeted at 1-to-8 year olds—tend to be especially tricky. Such books are often requested by children to be read and re-read and rare is the title that’s a) worthy of many reads and b) not going to drive the adult bonkers in the process. Enter Mo Willems.
“Prolific” is a word that comes to mind regarding ol’ Mo. The man has penned justafew titles, and he does good work.
A fun place to start is with his Pigeon books because: a) the Pigeon is a great character; b) the moods of the Pigeon swing wildly so his escapades are fun to read about; c) the Pigeon makes cameos in other Willems books; d) a wide age-range of readers will enjoy the book (approximately from two- to eight-year olds); and e) there are several Pigeon-centric books to enjoy. Lead with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus as it’s the first in the line and it effectively sets up the other books in the series.
Next consider Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale. Despite the foreboding subtitle, this book’s a fun read for kids (the same kids who enjoyed the pigeon books, probably) … especially those who have favorite blankets or stuffed animals. Knuffle Bunny is little Trixie’s take-everywhere stuffed bunny, and woe to the dad who leaves Knuffle at the laundromat. After A Cautionary Tale, enjoy the nearly-as-excellent-as-the-original Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity and Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion.
Mo has several great books that are series-less standalones: The Story of Diva and Flea (a beginning “chapter book” [with good illustrations … so for kids on the upper end of the picture book age-spectrum noted before] about a dog and cat in Paris); Leonardo, the Terrible Monster (a picture book in which poor Leonardo can’t scare anyone); Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct (Edwina’s that loveable dinosaur every small town used to enjoy; Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie is her appropriately named intellectual combatant in this picture book); and Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed (a picture book about a naked mole rat who is a bit different than the rest of his friends).
Then, when your kiddos are early readers and you’re looking for skill-appropriate reading material that doesn’t make you want to gouge your eyeballs out, consider the Cat the Cat and Elephant and Piggie series. The former is good; the latter is excellent.
Willem is “known to be a family man,” and he has clearly read his daughter many books. He’s picked up on the keys to great picture books and read alouds, and he’s implemented those lessons within his own corpus. Let his authorcraft and illustratorcraft complement your dadcraft.