Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mo Willems

2:00-3:15 Mo Willems

Speaker: #1 New York Times Bestselling author and illustrator Mo Willems is best known for his Caldecott Honor winning picture books Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity.

Mo Willems Homepage

The Mo I did not know . . .Mo was a writer for Sesame Street and won 6 Emmys. Mo is also working on a musical based on his Knuffle Bunny book. Mo, a rather dynamic speaker, started his lecture with a story. Mo did a rendition of the three little pigs. Mo stated at the end that he would never create a book around the three pigs story. The audience must create the meaning of his story.

Mo says that for a picture book to be successful it must be incomprehensible. With the three little pigs, everyone can picture what will happen and has preconceived notions of the story. Mo mixed up the story and the ending, but makes the point that he wants everyone to get out of his picture books what they want to get out of it.

Mo talks about readers not wanting a relationship with the author, but a relationship with the characters. Mo wants to make sure he is not present in the story. He wants to create an emotional placement with the characters, as in "Where the Wild Things Are" the reader does not notice the characters getting larger and larger. If you do notice, the author/illustrator has failed.

Mo also talks about manipulating the reader into the rhythm of the story by playing with the words and the length of the phrasing on each page. Mo leads into a discussion about one of the rules for his books: all of his books must have characters that can be drawn by a five year old. Mo wants children to feel like they can infringe on his copyright. Mo takes a moment to pass out paper to the audience to practice drawing like a five year old using basic shapes and concepts. Mo even makes "kiddy" noises while he draws indicating how much fun he is having, "honk, honk!" Mo draws a pigeon with everyone in the audience, imploring all to show him their picture. Mo points out the fact that every pigeon is different. Mo talks about the traditions of cartooning as a combination of English and American caricature and Japanese calligraphy.

One member of the audience asked how Mo came up with the name von hooby dooby. Mo uses the phrase for things he forgets.
Mo reflects on his third grade art teacher who threw all of his drawings away. When Mo went to high school his third grade teacher had taken a job at the high school, so Mo never took another art class. Mo got a Bachelors degree in film, but tells all that anyone can become an illustrator: it is the desire that is most important of all.
Mo explains that he got his first book published in 5 years—it was rejected by 74 million publishers. All the publishers said the book was unusual. The last publisher thought the books unusual nature was a good thing and decided to publish it. Don’t worry about getting published, work on being superlative and someone will find you.
One of the most intriguing stories Mo relates is when he was a child he wrote a letter to Charles Schulz asking if he could have his job when he dies. Mo waited for years for a response, until not long ago Charles Schulz passed away. Mo was talking to his father and mentioned, "Remember when I wrote that letter to Charles Schulz?" Mo's father responded, "Yeah, we should have sent that letter." Mo relates that it is a very Charlie Brown moment. Mo, of course, thought the letter had been sent and was disappointed to learn he waited for naught.

Mo ends his talk with the world's worst poem. Mo does a lot of traveling and reflected on a lousy ditty in the bathroom of a hotel that communicates the power of the word, however bad, even the word discourages the stealing of towels.

Here is a blog of some of Mo's doodlings: Doodle blog

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