I’m not going to lie. I was not very familiar with Mo Willems prior to having children. I had a vague awareness of Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, but I knew nothing of Elephant & Piggie, his series of books starring an elephant named Gerald and a pig named Piggie. I consider this a tragedy in hindsight. In the vast landscape that is children’s literature, these two characters (who star in 25 books!) have become front-and-center favorites of my whole family.
So it will not surprise you to learn that we were very sad to discover that the latest book in the series, The Thank You Book, will also be the last. It’s an end of an era to be sure, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to celebrate how Mo Willems has made, and will continue to make, storytime better for my family and for families all over the world.
Below are my top five reasons why Elephant & Piggie deserve a place on every family’s bookshelf:
1. They are funny! Gerald and Piggie are masters of humor that appeals to children and adults. Using misunderstandings, misheard words, and jokes, Willems infuses the books with serious laughs. In I’m a Frog!, there is a discussion about what it means to pretend: Gerald asks Piggie if “Even grown-up people” pretend, and Piggie gives the reader a smirk and answers, “All the time.”
2. The books contain life lessons for kids without hitting them over the head. Young readers learn the importance of empathy in A Big Guy Took My Ball! When Piggie finds a big ball, only to have a “big guy” come and take it away, Gerald decides that he is going to get the ball back. However, Piggie soon learns that the “big guy” owns the ball and was just trying to play with her, not be mean — and it’s a digestible lesson in seeing a situation from someone else’s perspective. In Waiting Is Not Easy!, Gerald has to learn patience as he waits all day for Piggie’s surprise. Waiting is a hard concept for young kids, and I love that Willems includes an amazing reward at the end of the book (no spoilers!).
3. They are great for kids learning to read. Willems is able to convey a range of emotions and actions with simple yet expressive illustrations. He helps kids understand the fundamentals of dialogue by color-coordinating every character’s word bubble, making it visually clear which animal is talking to little ones who can’t yet read. Willems draws the words in a manner that reflects the emotions of the characters by using different font sizes, applying italics, and bolding letters. He also does a great job with word repetition, while still keeping the plot interesting for parents.
4. The books are perfect read-alouds. When my husband and I bought our very first Elephant & Piggie book, We Are in a Book!, we began reading it aloud to our kids together. We Are in a Book! only stars the two titular characters, so my husband and I each took on a role. Now, as our twins have started to memorize the books, they’ve begun modeling our behavior while also assigning roles for everyone to act out. This adds an interactive element to our family time and makes reading even more fun.
5. Every book in the series is ultimately about friendship. The entire series contains the subtle message that, despite all of their differences (personalities, genders, species), Gerald and Piggie can get along. Gerald and Piggie laugh with each other, want to share everything together, and, of course, occasionally grow exasperated with each other. In My New Friend Is So Fun!, Gerald begins to wonder if he has lost his best friend when Piggie plays with Brian Bat, a fear that many children (and adults) face. Of course, the reader learns that Piggie still considers Gerald her best friend, helping children understand that it is okay to play with others and you can have more than one friend.
With so much to love, it is sad that there will be no more Elephant & Piggie books hitting the shelves. They have been with our family from the very beginning: from storytime when my twins were babies (when it seemed like the pleasure was solely my husband’s and mine), to story comprehension, to this new phase of memorization and acting out the books. And I am confident that they will help us through the initial stages of sight words and reading.
Thankfully, we don’t yet own all of the books in the series, so I can go on pretending there are new books being released as we slowly add them to our shelves.
But as I contemplate the end (THE END?!) of this special series, and what it’s meant to our family, I would just like to say: Thank YOU, dear Mo Willems, for creating characters and stories that make reading truly fun for the whole family.