Kristine's Reviews > My Friend is Sad

My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems
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's review
Nov 06, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: picture-books, read-aloud, kids-lit
Read in November, 2011

HOW HAVE I NOT HEARD OF ELEPHANT & PIGGIE BOOKS UNTIL NOW!!!!???????? If you have a child age 4-8 (I think these are technically 'emergent reader' books) you MUST try them out.

Why is Mo Willems a genius, you ask? Because he is. Very much so. Because of what he requires of his readers. Apparently anyone can throw together a picture/children's book that's dreck (I'm looking at you Tyra Banks). Recently I read an article in Horn Books of a talk he (MW) gave. So instead of telling you about this book (which tackles loneliness, friendship, and sadness), I want you to read MW's philosophy on writing children's literature (picture books):

I have the structure of my past work, and I am guided through the storms by this simple mantra: always think of your audience; never think for your audience.

This is done by putting as little as possible into the final work so as to leave room for my audience to enhance the story. As a simple test, if I re-read one of my manuscripts and I understand exactly what is happening, then the manuscript has too many words. And if I look at the images without the words and I can fully understand the story, there are too many drawings. It is only right when both words and image need each other to make any sense. They need to be as close to incomprehensible, separately, as possible.

Yes, I make incomprehensible books for illiterates.

Incomprehensible also because I never know what the book I’ve made “means.” That’s my audience’s job. You, the reader, create meaning out of the story; I just set the table. The fundamental truth of this was driven home when I read two early reviews for my first picture book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! The first one said, “I love this book because it teaches perseverance. It teaches kids never to give up. To fight on.” The second review said, “I love this book because it teaches kids to value the word ‘no,’ to know when to stop.”

Here’s the thing: both reviews were right. Their authors each brought their own selves to the story and in their minds created meanings that had never occurred to me. They became the co-authors of the book, implanting the meaning that was purposefully omitted, or perhaps obscured. Because, truth be told, I don’t have any answers. I’m not interested in them.

Why would I want to write about things I know? I already know them. I prefer to write about things I don’t know, about things that perplex me, create a sense of wonder in me, or are simply weird. So I write about things like: What is a friend? How do you keep a friend? How does what you do by accident change your environment and how do you come to grips with that? Wouldn’t it be cool to drive a bus? You know, the sort of fundamental, deep emotional questions that we all have.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Teresa (new)

Teresa so gonna scope these out next time i'm at the library. children's books are made of as much crack as grownup books are!

Wendi I should try these out, I have the pigeon books and really enjoyed them.

message 3: by Dawn (new)

Dawn My favorite Mo Willems books so far are the Knufflebunny books. They are awesome, so I'll have to try others like Elephant and Piggie. :)

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