Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Pals

| April 17, 2012

Mo Willems is a children’s book author who has created such beloved books as Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Leonardo, The Terrible Monster.  In addition to writing, Willems has worked as an animator and television writer, but claims he didn’t have the patience for the collaboration necessary on a TV set.  Now, 6 of Willems’ classic stories are brought to life as animated shorts in this two disc DVD set.

Unlike traditional children’s book stories, where the audience is hit over the head with a moral, Willems’stories strive to engage with his young audience.  He doesn’t preach to kids or force them to learn a lesson through familiar circumstances.  He respects kids more than that.  His goal then, is to entertain his readers as well as their parents and teachers.  Not that there isn’t occasionally a moral to be taken away from these stories.  The Pigeon Finds a Hotdog has a very clean lesson about sharing at its center.  The difference is that these lessons feel more organic to the story and characters being created here.

The visual style for these short cartoons (each one running about 7 minutes) is interesting for a few reasons.  First, Mo Willems’ books feel like comic strips.  Not necessarily in their design – with panels and gutters, but from page to page, there’s a noticeable fluidity.  So, naturally the adaptation to these cartoons can emphasize that aspect of the books even more.  Second, Willems has said that he always creates characters that any 5 year old child could draw.  He does this because he wants kids to be able to use his characters to create their own stories.  So, it’s interesting to watch these stories that look like they could have plausibly been drawn by a child.  It gives each story a certain inherent innocence that plays nicely with Willems’ writing style.

In addition to the writing here, Willems also takes charge of the animation of these cartoons.  Also, he and his family lend their voice acting to the various characters.  2 of the cartoons – “Knuffle Bunny” and “Knuffle Bunny Too” feature Willems daughter, Trixie, playing herself.  Little elements like this serve to ground each story in reality while still exploring the fantastical potential of the children’s literature genre.

Special features include read along subtitles for each cartoon, as well as interviews with Mo Willems as he does various readings of his work and talks to various classrooms of kids.  Beware though when watching the special features; a lot of the footage gets repeated in different features.  Each one does manage to contribute something different, but the repetition makes them harder to get through.

Available on DVD from Scholastic Storybook Treasures on April 17

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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