Saturday, May 3, 2008

The pigeon wants a puppy! words and pictures by Mo Willems - review

The pigeon wants a puppy! words and pictures by Mo Willems
Mo Willems really knows how to draw. Oh, that pigeon, he wears his heart on his sleeve - every gesture, every shift in posture or roll of the eyes speaks volumes. Remarkably, Willems communicates this rich, finely shaded, three-dimensional emotional range using only a few swift, sure, minimal lines. It is such a pleasure to drink in these illustrations, in which style and technique are honed to an exquisite point. And, really, I don't mean to downplay all that when I say that the art is not the best thing about the pigeon books.

The real genius of the pigeon books, The pigeon wants a puppy! being no exception, is the empowering effect that reading this book aloud has on a very young audience.

The pigeon catches the child's eye. "Oh, hello."

The pigeon confides in the child. "By the way, do you know what I want?"

The child recognizes the absurdity of the pigeon's request. "NO you can't drive the bus/stay up late/have a puppy!"

The pigeon pleads and whines, and the child continues to veto the request. Keep in mind that the adult is speaking the pigeon's part, so it's the adult who is doing the pleading and whining - and the kid who is shaking a finger and saying "No!". Empowering, no?

After being denied several times, the pigeon has a major wig-out. "I WANT A PUPPY! RIGHT HERE! RIGHT NOW!" The role reversal, with the adult mimicing tantrum behavior, is hilarious to most kids. If the grownup can manage to go cross-eyed and red in the face, so much the better.

The kid, by the way, is well aware that the pigeon is acting like a child. In laughing at the adult pretending to be the pigeon, who is behaving like a child, the child is laughing at his or her own out-of-proportion reaction to having been denied a Slurpee/another book/the last red gummy bear.

And then there's always a twist at the end.

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