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Friday, December 23, 2016

Will Young Fans Like Elephant and Piggie Like Reading?

Hi all, Amy here to take a look at the first two titles in the new Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! series. 

Image from books.disney.com
Image from books.disney.com
This year there are three Geisel eligible titles bearing the name Mo Willems (Well, technically four, if you’d like to make a case for Nanette’s Baguette). It’s hard to ignore Mo, iconic game-changer that he is. Here at Guessing Geisel we've already had a post on the final Elephant and Piggie book, as well as a post addressing the elephant in the room.









Now, let’s take a look at these new series titles: We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller and Mo Willems and The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat and Mo Willems. Both include humorous introductions and closing remarks by the dynamic elephant and pig duo. As readers have come to expect, there’s a funny, friendship-centered twist at the end of each story, along with color-coded speech bubbles, playful, plot-driven word repetition, and mostly dialogue text printed in large and easy to read fonts.

Image from We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller and Mo Willems

We Are Growing! is a hilariously melodramatic story about several shoots of grass (and one surprise dandelion) who grow and ponder their existence and their special talents. Each blade knows it’s strength, except Walt. He’s not the pointiest, tallest, silliest, or even the crunchiest. There are some tricky words--“pointiest”, “curliest”, “crunchiest”--but there are plenty of visual context clues in the cartoonish illustrations. The layouts are thoughtful, although spreads don’t have quite as much white space as a traditional Elephant and Piggie book. All in all, this is a visually attractive and textually engaging title.

Image from We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller and Mo Willems

In The Cookie Fiasco, four friends face a dilemma of epic portions: there are four friends, but only three cookies. That means someone will not get a cookie! As the characters become increasingly fraught, the urgency builds, creating a very strong page turning dynamic. There are some helpful visual context clues, especially as the cookies are divided into halves and then quarters. However, Santat’s illustrations, although full of wonderfully exaggerated facial expressions and humor, often take over the page. Consequently, the speech bubbles are squished, sentences are broken up awkwardly by line breaks, and white space is even less than we see in We Are Growing!

Image from The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat and Mo Willems

Another problematic element is the vocabulary. Although more difficult words are repeated often throughout the story, they lack visual context clues when first encountered. For instance, the words “disaster” and “fiasco” are probably unfamiliar and challenging for a new reader to sound out. And how exactly would one illustrate those words within the context of the story?

Image from The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat and Mo Willems

Personally, I think We Are Growing! is the stronger of the two titles. But most of all, I’m curious to see how young readers react to these titles. Will they get that the stories, although endorsed by Piggie and Gerald, aren’t really about them? Or will they be disappointed or confused? Have you read either one with a child? What was their reaction?

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