Mo Willems has reached celebrity status in our house.
This is Mo.
Haven’t heard of him? Rest assured your kids have. Mo lives in Brooklyn. He created Knuffle Bunny…and the Pigeon who wants to drive the bus…and Elephant and Piggie… Yeah that Mo Willems. He’s a genius.
Bean will even correct grown-ups who call him Mo Williams. We had to have a conversation about correcting grown-ups after she pulled that one with the parent of a classmate.
So up in Amherst, Massachusetts (coincidentally where I went to college), there is a museum dedicated to the brilliant children’s book writer Eric Carle called the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Once upon a time on this blog I made a video about Eric Carle. Remember when I used to make videos with my very compliant baby? Me too.
We visited this museum with family when Bean was teeny, and we were blown away. It is light and airy and inspiring and beautiful. There are activities and displays and to quote my favorite book as a child… there’s infinite “scope for imagination.” And right now, on display, there is a wonderful new exhibit all about Mo Willems called Seriously Silly: A Decade of Art and Whimsy by Mo Willems.
According to the museum, the exhibition, curated by The Carle’s chief curator, Nick Clark, will show preliminary drawings that give viewers a glimpse of Willems’ process, as well as other finished illustrations that fully reveal his comedic genius and the influence of his early work as an animator for Sesame Street. Willems’ own work is accompanied by a selection of work from his private collection by the comic book artists and cartoonists who have inspired him most, including Charles M. Schulz, William Steig, and Saul Steinberg. Like the masters who came before him, Willems makes a powerful message look simple. “Writing, especially funny stuff, involves touching your own heart,” says Willems. “But to get there you have to rip open the rib cage and squeeze past the lungs. It can’t help but be messy, shocking, and painful.”
I have a friend who uses the Elephant and Piggie books as scripts for his Intro to Acting classes. I think this says something rather profound about the books and about Mo Willems as a writer. The stories are active. They get at something essential about relationships–about conflict and action and reaction and resolution. They open the rib cage, squeeze past the lungs, and touch the heart which is pretty much mandatory for actors. And they are wonderfully open to dramatic interpretation. My new reader is never more expressive vocally than when she is reading an Elephant and Piggie book aloud.
So in these dog days of summer, if you are looking for a fabulous adventure with your children, and you are within striking distance of Amherst, Massachusetts, by all means, GO! Walk the campus of beautiful Amherst College and take in dinosaur bones at the Beneski Museum of Natural History. Get a chocolate croissant at The Black Sheep. Check out the Ko Theater Festival. Piggie out on a pizza from Antonio’s. And of course, spend many hours at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. You’ll be so glad you did.
Seriously Silly is on view now through February 23, 2014. Thank you to the Eric Carle Museum for sending us four passes to visit! Hope we can use them very very soon!