I’ve written before about my love for Mo Willems and I finally got to the top of the holds list at my local public library for the latest in his Elephant and Piggie series, I AM GOING!. It’s currently #8 on the New York Times Children’s Book Bestsellers List; Willems also holds spots #5 and #7 for CAT THE CAT, WHO IS THAT? and LET’S SAY HI TO FRIENDS WHO FLY!, respectively.
Willems’s sense of body language and facial expressions are once again spot-on: with a restricted vocabulary, so much is conveyed through an arched eyebrow or a tilted ear, and there’s a lot of humor Piggie being flipped upside-down by Gerald’s outbursts. And I love the humor in the details with Piggie’s watch existing only when she needs to check the time and the Pigeon’s cameo on Gerald’s silly hat and the Piggie-themed calendar (I’d buy that!).
The book also touches on a lot of developmentally appropriate ideas and literacy concepts. When Gerald is trying to persuade Piggie to leave later, he asks in specific increments of time of increasing size (tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year). Readers learn that tiny text in a big bubble means whispering or whimpering, and are exposed to italicized words along with their non-emphasized counterparts (“Why? Why? Why? Why?“). Adding “Who will I skip with?”, “Who will I play Ping-Pong with?” and “Who will I wear a silly hat with?” becomes “WHO WILL I SKIP AND PLAY PING-PONG IN A SILLY HAT WITH?!?!”
But I have to admit that this isn’t my favorite of the Elephant and Piggie books. (That would probably be THERE IS A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD! or ARE YOU READY TO PLAY OUTSIDE? or maybe even I WILL SURPRISE MY FRIEND!) It seems like the book focuses too much on the build-up to the twist, and the dialog is fairly one-sided (which was especially evident when Brittany and I read the book aloud to Erin during lunch).
Don’t get me wrong, though. Mo Willems’s books, even the ones that aren’t his best, are still at the top of the heap when it comes to children’s books. This entire series is a must-have for any library with beginning readers for their story and humor, which appeal to children and grown-ups alike.
(Have I mentioned how totally hilarious I find it that @The_Pigeon follows both @ChicagoHotDog and @GreyhoundBus?)
March 9, 2010
One month from today I’ll be headed to Portland for PLA’s 2010 National Conference! I’m really looking forward to more opportunities for professional development and meeting other cool librarians from around the country. In anticipation of PLA 2010, I thought I’d reflect on the highlights of my experience at ALA Annual 2009, which was the first conference I ever attended.
I was really lucky last year; it was my first year in the SLIS program and ALA was in Chicago, so I was able to attend at the student rate, not pay airfare, and not pay for a hotel (I have friends in Northwest Indiana so I stayed with them and took the train into town)–all of which made the conference affordable. And it was such a fantastic experience! By last summer my experience in actual libraries was pretty limited: most of what I knew I knew from class readings, homework, and discussion. Going to ALA showed me how much more libraries could be.
My first day, I attended YALSA’s Genre Galaxy, which covered different genres of YA lit: what makes them appealing, what books are out there, and how to sell them to teens or program around them. But the best part of this preconference were the authors who spoke to us about their work, including James Kennedy (whose appearance was all done in-character and involved local teens re-enacting a scene from his book–Elizabeth Bird of Fuse #8 did writeups and posted videos here, here, and here), Dom Testa, Simone Elkeles, David Lubar (whom I also got to speak with during a break–he’s such a cool dude!), Patrick Jones, Libba Bray, and Holly Black. Honestly, I was a little bit star-struck after a day of hearing these YA lit rockstars talk–and getting to talk to them one-on-one during breaks! The giddiness of being able to meet people whose work I enjoyed so much really impressed on me how great it’d be to be able to bring that experience to teens and children through author visits.
I also attended a bunch of sessions that blew me away with how incredibly awesome and proactive libraries could be. Scott Nicholson talked about gaming in libraries and did a great job explaining why gaming is good aside from just the way it brings kids into the library, and he explained the importance of being able to back up gaming in your library with your mission statement. Different librarians also talked about how they’d implemented gaming in their libraries–and it ranged from something as small as just having a teen-organized gaming collection in a tiny public library to a huge program with classes and guest speakers on how to create games at NYPL.
I also attended the panel discussion on Teen Advisory Boards and again had my mind blown (see my earlier post about my class presentation on TABs). The only Teen Advisory Board I’d seen in action was just a group of kids the librarian could bounce ideas off of. I’d never even considered how TABs could be harnessed to make a library better and give teens leadership opportunities, or how they could very nearly run a teen department with the right development work from the librarian. More than any other session, this panel discussion got me really excited about being able to work in a library and really make an impact with what I did there.
I sat in on a presentation on sex in YA literature that challenged notions we all have about teens and sexuality and the books they read. Laura Ruby‘s talk about writing for children and then writing for teens and having her books challenged gave interesting insight into the author’s side of things, and Marty Klein did a great job of putting things in a historical and psychological context and examining the state of teen sexuality and teen sex education today.
I also went to the panel discussion on graphic novels that included a representative from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Neil Gaiman, Terry Moore, and Craig Thompson. Again, it was interesting to hear from the creators of works that get challenged, works we feel we need to defend. The consensus seemed to be that they don’t set out to be controversial; they just write and draw the story they want to tell and it’s only after it’s been released that the work starts to get categorized and analyzed and challenged and loved. They also did a good job of making the point that just because it’s a graphic novel doesn’t mean it’s for children–and that’s something we need to keep in mind as librarians. I also enjoyed their conversation about how graphic novels differ from other media like film or text.
Beyond the sessions I attended (and there were more–those were just the ones that I found particularly inspiring or interesting), I had time to check out all of the vendors on the convention floor. I got some neat free stuff including books and bags and pins and a Polaroid of me hugging the Cat in the Hat and ARCs (see my earlier post on ARCs)–including one of CATCHING FIRE, which was fantastic and exciting. Especially since this was my first conference, this part really was overwhelming at times. There are just so many people and so many booths and so much stuff everywhere. I was shielded in part by not actually having any sort of purchasing power, and it did give me a good idea of what’s out there for when I am working in a library and go to conferences representing my institution.
Part of visiting vendors was being able to meet authors and illustrators and get signed copies of their books. I got to meet Mo Willems and tell him what a fan I was and have him sign a few books; I met E. Lockhart and briefly discussed Frankie’s mix of psychopath and awesome while she signed my copy of THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS (now out in paperback with a much more boring cover); and I not only met and received signed books from MT Anderson but was able to have a surprisingly long conversation with him. He turned out to be a super-nice guy and I really wish I’d been able to talk with him even longer. I also ran into Lori Ann Grover of readergirlz right before the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet and had a chance to learn more about how she started readergirlz and all of the great things they’ve done so far.
And finally, I got to attend the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet and the Michael L. Printz Award reception. The Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder event was so elegant and the acceptance speeches were moving and inspiring. I especially loved Ashley Bryan‘s story of growing up black and wanting to illustrate and his energetic, expressive group recitations of Langston Hughes’s poetry.
While the Printz reception was a more casual affair, it felt more personal, too. I enjoyed hearing from the honor books’ authors as well as the winner, and I especially liked the chance to mingle with the honorees afterward.
My first conference experience was a little bit overwhelming and exhausting (I really packed in every activity I could while I was there), but more than that it was incredibly inspiring and energizing. Through the sessions I attended and the people I met, I got to see what kinds of rockin’ awesome things librarians are doing. I came away from the experience feeling really excited about my profession and really motivated to learn more and do more.
So with PLA quickly approaching, I’m looking forward to being able to re-energize myself in my work, especially in a more focused framework since PLA will be about public libraries specifically, and I’m looking forward to everything I’ll learn and be inspired by and inspired to do. The one way in which I felt like my ALA experience was lacking was that I didn’t get to meet as many new people as I wanted, and I’m hoping to do that at PLA–in just one month!
February 24, 2010
I recently watched Getting to Know Mo Willems, a short video by Scholastic and Weston Woods about Mo Willems and his work. Last spring I wrote a short paper about Mo Willems for my Materials for Youth class and I’ve read all of his books, so it was fun to get more insight into his creative process and to see him drawing and to see the little sketch book out of which the Pigeon grew.
When he was talking about the art for the Knuffle Bunny books, I thought it was interesting that he took photographs of his neighborhood but then edited them to take out the trash cans and the air conditioners and to replace missing letters on signs. He said that he didn’t want the photographs to reflect how places actually look, but how they felt–and I think that’s one of the strengths of those books, how well they capture a sense of place.
I think the thing I love most about Mo Willems’s books are his characters’ facial expressions and body language. In the Pigeon books, so much is conveyed just with a raised eyebrow or a lowered lid. And especially in the Elephant and Piggie books where the vocabulary is so limited, so much of the narrative relies on what the illustrations convey. Piggie and Gerald look excited, exasperated, dubious, frightened, and gleeful all with a few small changes in pencil strokes.
In the video, Mo talks a little bit about how the Elephant and Piggie books are just plain fun to draw, but that he also really enjoys the challenge of writing Easy Reader books with fixed vocabularies of about 50 words. In fact, his first Geisel Award acceptance speech (read a blog post with the speech or just read the speech) is done with a limited vocabulary and simple grammar and hints at the difficulties in writing an Easy Reader book, but also shows how you can still be clever within those constraints.
My first week at the synagogue I was surprised by a group of preschoolers who had arrived for a storytime I didn’t know I was going to be giving. Still pretty unfamiliar with the collection, I grabbed two of the Pigeon books off of the shelf and read them with total abandon, yelling and gesturing and whispering and fake-crying. The kids totally loved it, and I think the teachers were impressed with the new librarian’s enthusiasm. I’ve grown to know the collection better in the months I’ve worked there, but I can always count on Mo to captivate an audience of otherwise wiggly kids.
I was lucky enough to meet Mo at ALA last summer (I was the first in line!) and have him sign a few of my books. Honestly, I was a little giddy finally getting to meet the man behind the best books I’d read in years–and that experience really impressed upon me how connecting with authors (and illustrators) through author visits or even Skype can be so inspiring for kids of all ages and can intensify their love for what they’re reading. It’s really important for me to be able to take that great experience I was lucky enough to have as an up-and-coming professional at a conference and find a way to give it to the young people I’m hoping to serve because man, meeting Mo (and MT Anderson, too) was the highlight of my ALA Annual experience.
For more Mo, check out Mo Willems’s website, his doodles blog, or follow the Pigeon on Twitter.
February 12, 2010