Mo Willems: Pigeons, Apps, and InspirationWhit Honea
You probably know three-time Caldecott honoree Mo Willems as the pigeon guy. I’m guessing that he gets that a lot (especially when he wears that awesome hat, left). However, in addition to his popular Pigeon series of children’s books he has also done quite well with Knuffle Bunny, Elephant and Piggie, and the Cat the Cat series, respectively. Willems writes about a bunch of animals, but who wants to wear an elephant on their head? That’s just silly.
Here is something about Willems you may not know: He also earned six Emmy Awards for his work on Sesame Street (which means he knows how to get there), performed stand-up comedy, contributed to BBC Radio and NPR, and created two animated television series. He’s been busy.
But that’s not all!
He recently released a new coffee table book through Disney Publishing Worldwide, Don’t Pigeonhole Me!: Two Decades of the Mo Willems Sketchbook, and today he launched his new app, Pigeon Presents: “Mo… On the Go!”
The new Disney app costs $3.99 on Apple products and $2.99 on Nook, and it is worth it! Pigeon Presents: “Mo… On the Go!” lets kids (or fun adults) dance (the Piggie Jiggie is sweeping the nation), take pictures, create monsters, draw with squiggles, and even drive the bus with Pigeon.
All of your favorite Mo Willems’ characters are there, including Mo himself!
Also, Mad Cow!
I recently interviewed Mo Willems via email to discuss his books, apps, and inspiration. The fun that happened is printed below for your reading pleasure—your fun reading pleasure!
WH: Why a pigeon? My dad used to raise pigeons for racing, and I have mixed feelings on them.
MW: A hippopotamus wouldn’t fit on the page. Besides no one in his or her right mind would choose a Pigeon to star in anything, thereby limiting the competition.
WH: How did you get started in the book business?
MW: I got into publishing the old fashioned way: by leveraging your stand-up and sketch writing abilities into a gig photographing book covers about psychological disorders which can lead to work painting bubble gum cards so that you might get the time to work in a gallery while making short films about pre-verbal beatniks that might amuse television executives enough to let you write for their muppets so that people will become interested enough in your carved ceramics and wire sculptures to give you a television show of your own that can be canceled almost immediately and replaced by another show created by your best friend who will hire you out of spite, giving you just enough breathing room to write comic books, which will also be axed before they’re released, while having your book ideas rejected for a few years until someone mistakenly contracts you for an absolutely ridiculous book that inexplicably sells a few copies.
How did you get started in email interviews?
WH: I studied the email arts in college. This has always been the dream.
What advice do you have for kids that love to draw? What about their parents?
MW: For young kids, I advise to draw every day. For their parents, draw every day, too. If grown ups are drawing, kids will know it’s cool and worthwhile. If they merely encourage their kids, yet refuse to join in the drawing, the kids will quickly figure out that drawing is a stupid thing only babies do. For those older kids for whom drawing has become something important and who think maybe one day they want to draw for a living my advice is: draw every day. But I add the caveat to especially draw on the days that you don’t want to. Those are the days that you’ll force out those new (and maybe uncomfortable) ideas and thoughts that have been hiding from you.
Also, draw every day.
WH: The coffee table book sounds awesome. How did that come about, and what are your plans for decade number three?
MW: The Don’t Pigeonhole Me! collection of my sketchbooks happened because 20 years is a nice round number and some of my pals had expressed a desire to have the stories and experiments I’d been sending out ever Christmas to be collected in a single volume that could double as a brick. This is a very special project for me. I discovered the type of cartooning and storytelling in Don’t Pigeonhole Me! as a student by poring over big, fat collections from the 50’s and 60’s (books like the Cartoon Treasury and New Yorker and Punch anthologies), so it’s a big thrill to have a similar tome out there in the world for some young cartoonist to peruse.
I am particular excited about the next decade of sketchbooks because I have know idea what they’ll be about.
WH: What can you tell us about the app and what you hope it will do for your storytelling and your readers?
MW: The Mo on the Go! app is really just a chance to have fun and play with some of my characters. Fun on the device certainly, but my hope is that every digital activity can also lead to a real one. The “Squillems” doodle game can be played on paper, the Elephant and Piggie Dance game might lead to real actual dancing, the Leonardo Monster Maker might encourage a kid to make their own creatures and create stories for them, etc… I like fun because it’s important; but mostly because it’s fun.