105 Ways to Give a Book

The Mo Willems Experience Part II: The Speech

We left MotherReader as she walked away from the book-signing desk, two books in her hands and Mo Willems’ “Rock on,” ringing in her ears. Now, back to the story.

I returned to the dinner section for another can of Diet Pepsi (’cause I certainly wasn’t wired enough), when I noticed the progression of people leaving the area. Realizing that Mo (I feel like I can call him that at this point in our relationship) was going to be speaking in the auditorium, and not in the room in which I was currently sitting, I beat a path to the correct room.

After distracting a couple of women in front of me (“What’s Brad Pitt doing here?”), I dived for the front row seats for me and my few other library colleagues. I probably did not need to employ extreme measures to secure the well-positioned seat, as most of the audience seemed to think they were in a class of some sort and were positioning themselves towards the back. It’s strange, because I have never seen a public speaker employ a test at the end.

The director of something and the liaison from something else talked about something... and then they introduced the guest of honor. I was very polite and professional in my front-row seat, only winking at him three times during his speech. Though, in retrospect, perhaps holding up the I LOVE YOU MO!!! sign was a little over the top...

No, come on, I paid attention to his speech like all the normal people there. And he is a fantastic speaker, which didn’t really surprise me. He was funny, and warm, and interesting, and personal, and several more adjectives that fail me now. The presentation was for child care providers in the county, with the idea of encouraging them to read to the kids in their care. Mo talked about the partnership between the author and readers (we’re partners!) by which the reader needs to share the books with the child, and the author needs to write the books to be read. He encouraged the audience to “play your books.”

As an example for how to share a book (though he never said that), he read to us from Leonardo the Terrible Monster, Knuffle Bunny, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late. As he read, he pointed out some things on the pages. Sometimes it was what the kids might point out. Sometimes it was something he wanted to share, like how the pictures get progressively darker in Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late. It was amazing to hear him read his own books, with his inflections, his interpretations. Can you blame me for throwing my unmentionables on stage?

No, come on, I listened with rapt attention like everyone else — many of whom were hearing his books for the first time. It was inspiring and engaging, especially as a room full of adults yelled, “NO!” at the pigeon.

It was halfway through his presentation that I remembered that I might want to take a few notes for reference for the blog. Now, since I left college, I don’t take notes, like... ever. I don’t write my booktalks, I don’t jot things down in meetings, I don’t even make a grocery list. So my notes are a little... cryptic. A great writer would take these notes and weave them together in a cohesive piece bringing you along for the ride that is a Mo Willems speech. I will, however, say, “Umm, here they are.”

Knuffle Bunny
The K is pronounced as a hard K; it is not silent. Though Mo says you can read it however you want, he was surprised that we decided to leave the K sound out.

End pages mean something
I believe I meant to convey that the end pages of his books are part of his stories, even in Leonardo, where the end pages are dark. In that case, the pages are the darkened movie theater before the titles show on screen.

Best line in K written by wife
Quick — what’s the best line in Knuffle Bunny? For me, and many others, it is “She went boneless,” with the accompanying illustration. Mo told us that his wife wrote this line.

Series of easy readers
He is working on a series of easy readers for which he needs to use a controlled vocabulary. He uses words and phrases in his pictures books that may be more of a challenge for the children listening, but he doesn’t use a particular set of words in writing them.

Leave som for reade brin
This seems to have been “Leave something in the book for readers to bring to the experience,” but I tore off part of the page to give my address to a colleague. Mo talked about how he cuts his text down and down again, so that in using the minimum number of words needed, the reader can bring the maximum to the experience of the book. I think that is my phrasing, not Mo’s, but if you are reading, Mo, you are welcome to use it.

Cartoonists are athletes training muscles to draw
At the end of the presentation he encouraged us to “infringe on his copyright” by learning to draw the pigeon. He reminded us that everyone, every child can create art because art is never “wrong.” “You can sing wrong notes, but you can’t make wrong art,” he told us (I may be paraphrasing slightly). But getting better at drawing takes practice, and in that, cartoonists are athletes training their muscles to draw.

He also reminded us that all kids are authors, that every kid can tell a story. He gets story ideas all the time for his pigeon. His current favorite was from a talk in New Orleans, where he lived for a while: Don’t Let the Pigeon Run FEMA. Or alternatively, LET the Pigeon Run FEMA.

That’s what I can remember with any accuracy whatsoever. For more information about Mo Willems and his books, give his website a visit.

You will be proud to hear that, as we the audience left, I neither shouted out his name nor rushed the podium. I left most quietly, got in my car, and promptly got lost as I was thinking more about the evening then my driving.

I came home and told my husband about the event, even using the word “stoked” at one point, which just drives home exactly how “stoked” I must have been. When I told him about ambushing Mo Willems outside the restroom,
he said, “That is so you.”

“How is that me?” I asked.

“Remember when you met that guy from the video I did at work, and you told him that you thought you might be just a little bit in love with him?” he replied.

“Oh. Yeah. Well, I didn’t tell Mo Willems that I was a little bit in love with him,” I responded.

And as he turned away, I added, “... yet.


Anonymous said...

Wow, a set of easy readers! I can't wait to see them.

Great two-part post.

Anonymous said...

Very funny! Who would've thunk it, a K sound for Knuffle Bunny.

Bill said...

I just noticed that Mo has the instructions for drawing the pigeon on his site (so apparently he's serious in his call for widespread copyright violation).

Greg Pincus said...

After successfully drawing Captain Underpants by following the instructions in one of the Dav Pilkey books, I also successfully drew the Pigeon. Well, success is defined by me as meaning that it looks something like a bird. But it inspired the kidlits to draw, too.

Funny stuff, MR. I cannot wait to hear Mo Willems at that SCBWI Annual Conference in August.

Anonymous said...

I love hearing the backstory behind his books. I would not have known to pronounce Knuffle Bunny with a hard K. And the story about "boneless" is hysterical -- my younger daughter does that all the time, and since I first read Knuffle Bunny I found that term to be the most descriptive and appropriate one to use in those circumstances. (Thanks, Mo!)

(And thanks to Mo's greatest fan, Mother Reader, for the recap of the Mo Willems Experience!)