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! is 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...