Mo Willems, like the plucky, dry-witted Pigeon whom we’ve all grown so fond of, tells it like it is. “I wanted to make a dirty book,” he says.
That’s how Mo jokingly responded when I asked about the inspiration behind the latest Pigeon adventure, The Pigeon Needs a Bath, out April 1st from Hyperion Books for Children.
Pigeon hates baths — or at least he is convinced he does (sound familiar, parents?) Then he gives clean a chance and discovers that baths just might be his thing after all. The book, I have to admit, is already a favorite in my house. My 7-year-old can readily identify with the fast-talking bird who doesn’t like to get clean. But speaking selfishly, I love the book because it delivers a very useful message into the mind of my bath-hating child by its end. So while my son laughs and cracks up and thoroughly thinks the book is for him, I feel the book is like a magical tool made just for me.
I asked Mo if these kinds of parent-centric thoughts ever enter his mind when writing a book. Does he think like a parent or does he think purely as a storyteller? Does he ever set out to write a book that’s also a parenting tool?
“Well, a lot of people think that I’m a tool, but that’s something else entirely,” he jokes. “My job really is to write 51% of the book and let the audience bring in the rest. Whatever meaning it has for them is in how they are experiencing the book. But ultimately I would say that if I have to choose whose side I’m on when I write a book, I’m really on the side of the kids. I write the books for them.
“I think this book, honestly, isn’t so much about baths but is more about the difficulty of transitioning. I often am reticent to go do something new. And then of course once I get there I don’t want to leave. The question in this book is how do you transition? Why don’t we want to transition? That’s a real philosophical question that I’m grappling with in my own life. And more and more I realize that my books ask questions.”
Having just moved his family to Paris for a year-long sabbatical, it makes perfect sense that he would write a book about transitions into new and slightly uncomfortable situations and experiences. Mo describes living in a foreign country, surrounded by a foreign language, like “going to kindergarten every day. This book really comes from that — a little bit of a place of fear.”
But Pigeon gets over his fear of taking the plunge, and finds he loves it. And as Mo adds, “There’s a sort of birth in trying new things.”
Now there’s a statement none of us are too old to take to heart.
All images ©Mo Willems, used courtesy Hyperion Books for Children. You can find more about Mo on his website.