Mo Willems – When a Pig Meets an Elephant

Catching up with the New Yorker recently, I not only laughed out loud at Rivka Glachen’s profile of children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems – Funny Failures – but also connected to this children’s author’s wry outlook.  I needed to find his books.

A quick search showed ninety-eight of his titles in my local library system, so I returned to the article to note those highlighted in the five page article.  Two have won Caldecott Honors – Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (2004) and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2005).  Another I added, just to meet the elephant and the pig in We Are in a Book.

Knuffle Bunny may remind you of the last time you lost something in the laundry; the pigeon is hilarious – what’s the first thing any child wants to do when told not to?  As for the elephant and the pig, I dare you not to say “BANANA” when you read their book.

Although Willems’ books are identified as Easy Readers, in the same vein as Eric Carle  or P.D. Eastman, his animals are funny in their anxiety and resilient in their failures – a lesson for adults as well as children.  Give yourself a laugh; find Mo Willems.

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Imaginary Friends

From Harvey, the invisible rabbit, to Goldie, the unicorn in Pinkalicious, imaginary friends have been floating through literature – getting children and adults into trouble, and saving them from loneliness.  Brandon Mull, the author of the Fablehaven fantasy series, uncovers Pingo, an imaginary friend who reappears in old age.

Illustrated by Brandon Dorman, Pingo resembles a feisty Hobbit with a tail. He entices the young boy into exciting adventures, until Chad becomes susceptible to peer pressure, and decides he is too old for silly play.  Pingo still gets the blame for Chad’s mistakes and pitfalls, playing the role of most imaginary friends who take the heat, but eventually, Pingo fades into the background of Chad’s adult life.  Until…

Chad becomes an old man and needs unconditional love again – and someone to talk to.

Who can say that it isn’t Pingo or one of his contemporaries that hides the keys when we cannot find them?  Everyone needs a friend.

The Curious Garden

Have you ever seen a flower or weed struggling through a crack in the concrete?  On the Big Island of Hawaii, new plant life emerges from the ash and cinders of the 1959 eruption of the volcano on Devastation Trail, a place named for its bare landscape.  The power of plants to stun us with their resilience and beauty is the theme of Peter Brown’s picture book – The Curious Garden.

Brown uses Manhattan’s old Highline elevated train tracks, long unused and now overgrown with wildflowers and trees as his inspiration for a little boy’s dream to beautify the city. Finding some struggling wildflowers among the deserted train tracks in the “dreary city without gardens,” Liam decides to help by being their gardener.  Eventually, the garden takes over, changing the gray city into a magnificent green world.

Brown’s text is simple and easy, with his art dominating most of the pages.  The city transforms gradually, with Liam taming the plants that pop up “where they didn’t belong” – on fire hydrants and stop signs, and enlisting “new gardeners” for rooftop displays all over Manhattan’s skyscrapers.  The last two facing pages open to gardens everywhere among the skyline.

The Curious Garden is a wonderful way to introduce children to the possibility of gardens anywhere and everywhere, and to remind adults that being green may just be helping nature take its course.