Allison's Book Bag

An Author Who Will Make You Laugh

Posted on: February 16, 2015

Mo Willems is best known for his characters Knuffle Bunny, The Pigeon, and Elephant and Piggie. Prior to these successes, he also worked as a writer and animator for Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and PBS’s Sesame Street. According to Mo Willems FAQ, his work in children’s books, animation, television, theater, and bubble gum card painting have garnered him 3 Caldecott Honors, 2 Geisel Medals and 4 Honors, 6 Emmy Awards, and multiple bubble gum cards. 🙂

PERSONAL

Mo Willems makes funny drawings that hopefully will make you laugh.–Mo Willems

–Mo Willems, FAQ

The son of Dutch immigrants, and raised in New Orleans, Willems first became interested in cartoon art when he was just a child. Before he even entered school, Willems had started to draw and create his own characters. He also enjoyed writing stories about his characters to share with others. A few anecdotes illustrate Willems’ path to becoming a comedian.

Wikipedia reports that Willems “became very disappointed when adults would constantly praise his work out of politeness. To fix this dilemma Willems started writing funny stories. He knew that even polite adults could not fake a laugh. So when the adults laughed he knew his story was good and if the adults still gave polite comments then he knew his story was bad.

CBS News reports that in second grade, the class bully would not tease Willems or bully him if he had a gag. So, already in second grade, Willems had a daily comic strip. “Just come up with a little gag, and I’d show it to him. And if he laughed, then I was off the hook for the day.”

After graduating from Tisch School of the Arts in New York, Willems spent a year traveling around the world drawing one cartoon per day. All of these have been published in the book You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons.

Upon returning to New York, he started his career as a writer and animator for Sesame Street. Apparently always liking to be busy, Willems also undertook a list of endless other jobs. For example, he performed local stand-up comedy, recorded essays for BBC Radio, created a promotion for Cartoon Network, and animated the opening for a show on Nickelodeon. The latter two led to his developing two animated television series.

In the midst of all this, he also found time to marry and to have children. The family now resides in Massachusetts. According to Wikipedia, besides working and being a family man, Willems also enjoys pasta, wine, and hanging out with friends.

WRITING

I told my boss, “Hey, I won a Caldecott Honor!” He said, “Great. Story meeting in 10 minutes.”
Unbelievably lucky enough, the next year I got a Caldecott Honor, and so I had a better sense of what it was. So I said, “Hey, boss, I got a Caldecott Honor. I quit!”

–Mo Willems, CBS News

Mo_WillemsWhile serving as a head writer at Cartoon Network, Willems began writing and drawing books for children. In 2003, he resigned his career in television to become a stay-at-home father for his daughter and a full-time writer. In this latter, Willems continues to show his diverse talents. His debut effort, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! became a New York Times Bestseller and was awarded a Caldecott Honor. Two of his subsequent picture books, Knuffle Bunny: a Cautionary Tale and its sequel, Knuffle Bunny Too: a Case of Mistaken Identity, garnered more Caldecott Honors. In addition to picture books, Willems has created the Elephant and Piggie books, a series of award-winning “Easy Readers”. For older audiences, Willems published an illustrated memoir of his year-long trip around the world entitled You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons and a collection of 20 years of his annual sketchbooks called Don’t Pigeonhole Me!.

Despite switching careers, Willems has also remained as busy as ever. His drawings and sculptures have exhibited in numerous galleries and museums across the nation. His graphic story about his family experiences during 9-11 for DC comics resides in the Library of Congress’ permanent collection. Willems has been heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, where he briefly served as the broadcast’s ‘Radio Cartoonist’. He both voices and produces animated cartoons based on his books. Willems wrote the script and lyrics for plays based on his books, the plays being commissioned by the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. No wonder, The New York Times Book Review referred to Willems as “the biggest new talent to emerge thus far in the 00’s”.

Tomorrow I’ll review The Pigeon Needs a Bath. Save the date: February 17!

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