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Mo Books, Mo Fun! The Wonderful World of Mo Willems

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

I often say that having the great fortune to be employed in a library—yes, Darling Reader, paid to be here—is a wondrous thing, but it really cuts into one’s reading time.  Library Mythbuster Numero Uno:  we don’t get paid to sit around and read.  What, you think the books get back on the shelves all on their own? And that all library patrons are as smart and savvy as you and don’t need my assistance and expertise?  I’m so sorry to be the one to burst your bubble if you were operating under that premise, and were making career plans accordingly.  We are, however, expected to possess an extensive breadth and depth of knowledge of the materials that are available to patrons, especially in the departments in which we spend our days (and evenings. And weekends.  Library Mythbuster Numero Dos:  this is not a 9-to-5 weekday gig.)  Some of us amass this knowledge through advanced degrees in Library Science and/or work experience in libraries, and others of us learn about the abundance of wonderful children’s books from the hours we spent reading to our own offspring.  (Some of us also have a deep-seated loathing for certain children’s books, usually through no fault of the author but because of the stultifying number of times we have read certain books that our kids loved but that we did NOT.  That’s a topic for a future blog, but I have two words for you in the meantime:  Johnny Tremain.)  It saddens me a little that I missed out on the joy of reading Mo Willems’ books with my children, but I have immensely enjoyed perusing them since signing on to the Children’s Department at WCPL and recommending them to patrons.

If you have children, or have ever spent any time with children, you surely know that they have these acute, finely-tuned internal sensors that enable them to see right through any awkward attempts by adult humans to try to be funny or whimsical or relatable when they just aren’t.  One thing that differentiates Mo Willems’ books from the paper-and-cardboard sea of kiddie lit is that they are very, very funny.  I mean . . . a picture book about a naked mole rat who just wants to express himself through creative sartorial choices?  Come on, people, that’s freaking hilarious, I don’t care who you are.  Willems’ formula works due to the culmination of several factors:  excellent timing, precise word choices, and just-right repetitions of words and phrases.

 

Mo Willems was born in February 1968 in suburban Chicago and grew up in New Orleans.  He graduated cum laude from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.  After graduation, Willems spent a year traveling around the world, and he commemorated this journey by drawing a cartoon each day.  These cartoons were subsequently published in the book You Can Never Find A Rickshaw When It Monsoons.  When he returned to New York after his adventure, Willems began his career as a writer and animator for Sesame Street, where he was awarded six Emmy awards for writing during his tenure from 1993 to 2002.  Since 2003, Willems has authored dozens of books for children, many of which have earned him critical acclaim and numerous literary awards.  (A bibliography of Willems’ books appears at the end of this article.)  My personal favorites include, in no certain order:  the previously mentioned  Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed; Edwina The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was ExtinctKnuffle Bunny:  A Cautionary Tale; and Don’t Let The Pigeon Stay Up Late! Check ‘em out, Darling Reader.  (See what I did there?  Y’all know I couldn’t make it through a blog without a pun.)  Happy reading–

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