Mo Willems is the author and illustrator of a number of children's books. You likely know at least a few of them.
Books like "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!," "Is There a Bird on Your Head," "Are You Ready to Play Outside?," "Knuffle Bunny" and others are all beloved for their great stories – perfect for readers ages 1-101 – as well as their simple but expressive and fun illustrations.
Those books have gotten Willems onto the New York Times Bestseller list and have earned him three coveted Caldecott Honor awards and two Geisel Medals. In a previous life, Willems was also a six-time Emmy Award-winner and animator for "Sesame Street."
His new book, "Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator," is about, well, Amanda and her stuffed alligator.
Willems visits Boswell Book Co., 2559 N. Downer Ave., on Thursday, May 5 at 4 p.m. Admission is free, but you can support these events by purchasing a book or three.
We had the opportunity to hurl a few questions his way this week via e-mail. Here's what we talked about ...
OnMilwaukee.com: For all the flowery and complex books out there for kids, I know that straightforward drawings and stories like yours really grabbed me as a kid and continue to appeal most to my kids. Were those the kinds of books you liked as a kid, too?
Mo Willems: My childhood dream was to become a syndicated cartoonist. Consequently, I devoured Peanuts – and still do. As I aged the pacing of Doonesbury and the exuberance of Calvin and Hobbes had a deep effect on me.
OMC: Were you a bookish kid? What were your favorites?
MW: As a kid I was as lonely as Charlie Brown, as philosophical as Linus, as self-centered as Lucy, and as coordinated as Woodstock, so those Peanuts collections that I picked up at the local K&B drugstore and lunch counter for 75 cents were a perfect fit. I also dug Spiderman in the mid and late '70s. It was like reading about Charlie Brown with superpowers.
OMC: Is there something especially fundamental to us about reading as children that ties us to children's literature and picture books?
MW: The only difference between adults and children is that adults are, by and large, older. I write for people. Children, because they haven't been around very long, have no patience for ironic writing, but otherwise their tastes are remarkably similar to adults: they don't want to be lectured to, they want to be engaged in the story's characters, they want to laugh.
Being a person myself, I find that if I laugh at something, others probably will also chuckle at the same thing.
OMC: Can you tell us a little about the new book?
MW: "Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator" is about two best friends – Amanda and her Alligator. Amanda is a little girl who loves to read and Alligator is her best friend. In the six and a half stories in the book there are lots of surprises – some silly, some funny, and some surprises where they learn from each other.
One of the surprises for Alligator is to discover that books beat boredom – as long as you have a fun book, you can learn about something – like jet packing into space.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.