The Art and Whimsy of Mo Willems

March 18 - September 25, 2016


Set three of images

(above: Mo Willems, Edwina the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct . Final illustration for Edwina baking cookies, © 2006 by Mo Willems. Hyperion Books for Children, 2006. Charcoal pencil on vellum, 9 x 12 inches.)

Willems' stories often map behavioral ideals through a wonderfully wacky lens. Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct (Hyperion, 2006) is a story about overcoming hostility and sparking friendship. Edwina is the consummate do-gooder. Reginald von Hoobie Doobie, the school know-it-all, is bent on proving to everyone that dinosaurs (that is, Edwina) are extinct. Yet Edwina's persistently generous nature enchants everyone, and ultimately Reginald. In this closing illustration, she bakes him her signature chocolate-chip cookie



(above: Mo Willems, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. Final illustration for "Hello," © 2009 by Mo Willems. Hyperion Books for Children, 2009. Ink and watercolor on paper, 8 1/2 x 11 inches.)

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed (Hyperion, 2009) addresses identity exploration and unorthodoxy. Naked Mole Rats don't wear clothes, but Wilbur enjoys dressing up. The mole rat community ostracizes Wilbur until the patriarch mole rat recognizes it as a harmless matter of personal choice. The art for this book is done in watercolor in a single layer, a departure from Willems' animation approach of working in multiple layers.


(above: Mo Willems with Pigeon. Photo by Marty Umans.)

After a successful stint with Sesame Street, where he garnered numerous awards for his writing, Willems decided to shift his focus to children's books. In 1999 he made a pilgrimage to Oxford University (where Dr. Seuss had done graduate work) in search of inspiration. There he encountered an irrepressible pigeon who kept showing up in his sketchbooks, and it became the protagonist of his first book, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Since then, the Pigeon has called the shots; Willems knows he is one character who will never retire.

(above: Final cover illustration for The Thank You Book (An Elephant and Piggie Book). © 2015 by Mo Willems. Hyperion books for Children, 2016. Charcoal pencil, colored pencil, graphite, and ink on paper, 14 x 11 inches)

The first Elephant and Piggie book was published in 2007. The twenty-fifth -- and final -- book, The Thank You Book, is due in May 2016. "It was born," he says, "from a real sense of gratitude toward my readers." Every secondary character from the series makes a reappearance. For Willems, the trick was to make this a book that would stand alone while also functioning as a final bow to the series.

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