Tonight, I chose an old favorite, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, after reading on Mo Willems blog that today marks this Caldecott classic's eighth birthday. Willems---who has also won accolades for his Knuffle Bunny trilogy and Elephant and Piggie series of early readers, among others---may well be my favorite 21st century author-illustrator. Willems' books are incredibly clever and laugh-aloud funny, but they are also tender and endearing. Part of what makes them so powerful is the brilliant fusion of cartoonish images with vividly real plots, themes, and characters. At the same time, what Willems does better than almost everybody else is to craft books that are equally amusing and relatable---though on very different planes---to both children and adults, a skill he no doubt honed during his early-career stint on Sesame Street.
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is the first in a series of four Pigeon stories (Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late, The Pigeon Wants a Puppy, and The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog). The plotline is simple; a bus driver, about to go on break, asks the reader to keep an eye on the bus and, in particular, to make sure that the pigeon doesn't drive it. However, we soon learn, driving a bus is the pigeon's cherished, lifelong ambition. And through a display of perseverance, cunning, creativity, and emotional manipulation of the sort all too familiar both to young children and their caregivers, he spends the rest of the book trying to make us cry "Uncle." On every page, Willems gives us the same, one-step-ahead-of-stick-figure pigeon drawing against a solid background. But remarkably, each incarnation of this very basic bird shows---to an incredibly nuanced degree---his distinctive emotional state and tone at that particular moment, conveyed through subtle but perfectly-pitched variations in posture, body language, and facial expression.
Worth Noting: Willems' two websites are full of fun Pigeon resources. My favorite, available through his primary page, teaches readers how to draw the pigeon. Even a supremely untalented adult can draw a passable bird by following his instructions, and the creative possibilities are endless. I also enjoyed the Teacher's Guide available through his Pigeon Presents page.
Fun Fact: The pigeon has cameos in many of Willems other books. Look for him in unexpected places, like, say, emblazoned on a jogger's t-shirt or tucked discreetly into the endpapers.
Miss E's Read: "Crazy! I'd let the pigeon drive the bus!" Her favorite page is the last one, the final plot twist...but I won't spoil it for you.