Mo Willems’s fans will be delighted to know that he has a new picture book available, entitled That Is Not a Good Idea! (Balzer + Bray, $17.99). The story unfolds like a silent movie with color images interspersed with dialogue on black pages. A dapper male fox meets a demure female goose. The two strangers take a walk through the woods and then decide to have lunch. The audience, comprised of six delightfully cute baby chicks, continually interjects, yelling, “that is not a good idea” at the screen. Like all of Willem’s book, this one has a twist, but just when you think you know what the twist is going to be the story twists off in a completely different direction. Although younger children might not recognize the silent film motif, they will appreciate the humor of this story. Pigeon lovers should make sure to look closely; as usual, he makes a cameo.
I recently claimed that Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs was my favorite dinosaur book and that remains true. Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems (Hyperion, $16.99) is a close second; although, arguably, this book is more about Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie than it is about dinosaurs. Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie. I defy you to say his name without at least cracking a smile, or snorting just a little bit. I read this book to a group of kids ranging from about 8 to 15, which is a tough crowd to find a book for, and they could not stop laughing. I could barely stop laughing. Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie. Classic. Anyway, Edwina is a lovely dinosaur, who wears a nice hat and always has a kind word for everybody. Everyone loves her. Except Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie. He KNOWS that dinosaurs are extinct and he sets out on an elaborate campaign to convince the town that Edwina SHOULD NOT be living there, or Living anywhere for that matter. Poor Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie. Everyone is so fond of Edwina that they don’t bother to pay attention. He needs a sympathetic ear. Fortunately for him, Edwina the dinosaur, who really is quite lovely, lives in his town. She’s the only one who takes the time to listen to his rather Persuasive and Loud explanation for why dinosaurs are, in fact, extinct. This book is by far my favorite of Willems’s books, which is saying quite a lot. The pauses in this story are perfect, especially the terrible moment when Edwina discovers the truth about dinosaurs. What will she do? What will she say? What has Reginald von Hoobie-Doobie done?
Surely you don’t think I’m going to ruin this for you.
I don’t have exact statistics, but other than requests for new baby recommendations, I feel as if I get a lot of inquiries about early readers. It must be scary, or a bit sad, for parents to realize that their kids are starting to read on their own, so parents seem to rely on recommendations. In my experience, parents are often looking for books that children can read themselves, but that are also enjoyable read alouds. Some publishers have gotten rather smart about this phenomenon, but more on that another time. For very new readers, let’s say several steps before chapter books, when kids are sounding out words and can read sentences, but not full paragraphs, I highly recommend Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie books.
Kids who enjoyed his Knufflebunny and Pigeon picture books will love the irreverent humor in this early reader series. The text is sparse, but Willems plays with words, often delighting in words themselves. Elephant & Piggie laugh and laugh at the sound of the word ‘banana’. Say it over and over again; you’ll start laughing, too. The two characters display a range of emotions and have hilarious conversations, with occasional misunderstandings, but one of the most interesting feature of this series is that they also engage directly with the reader and serve as guides for conceptualizing reading and books. In We are in a Book! (Hyperion, $8.99) they comment on their own status as characters in a book. They then discuss what makes up a book, instructing readers about the different pieces. Anxiety about the “end of the book” is humorously alleviated by the perpetual present tense of books. Start over and the story is still there. Willems series is as much about introducing the phenomenon of reading to children as it is about practicing reading. I find that quite an amazing feat for a book with approximately one sentence on each page.
A few weeks ago, a customer told me that she reads the books out loud with her son, each taking one of the characters, which I thought was a wonderful idea. The books are primarily dialogue and offer unlimited possibilities for discussion. Oh, and don’t forget to look for the Pigeon.