We Are the Instruments in the Mo Willems Orchestra

Mo Willems, three-time Caldecott Honor winner and beloved children’s book author of, among many others, the Knuffle Bunny books and the tales of the most famous Pigeon on the planet, has a particular relationship to his readers: He thinks of us as his orchestra.

I need to make a good solid thing that is workable. And then if it's pretty, that's gravy.

Similar to composers, who rely on musicians and conductors to translate their written scores into emotional experiences for their audiences, Willems depends on us dads, moms, grandparents, teachers, and story hour hosts to give life to his charming and witty creations so they can be enjoyed by children who cannot yet read by themselves.

Understanding this on a most basic level, Willems always approaches writing with his performers in mind, not just his listeners. “The key to what I do,” Willems explained to Disney Dads via phone, “is that I try to make sure my books are funny. I want my ‘orchestra’ to enjoy the pieces they’re playing.”

Willems grew up in New Orleans, the son of Dutch immigrants. His favorite books, he says, were Peanuts anthologies and Dutch picture books. “My father was the one at home,” he says. “My mother had the more traditional job. My father was a potter, so I spent a lot of time in the pottery studio. I learned about craftsmanship, and making something useful for people. That’s part of my philosophy in what I do: I am a craftsman; I am utilitarian and pragmatic. I need to make a good solid thing that is workable. And then if it’s pretty, that’s gravy.”

For more on Mo Willems’ books, projects, and appearances, visit his website.

Author photo by Marty Umans.

 

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