I have been in a Walker Books-induced frenzy lately. First I discovered that Patrick Ness had come and gone from our shores without calling me – The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first book in his Chaos Walking trilogy, is one of the saddest, most wonderful things I’ve read lately – and now I have discovered Mo Willems.
Mo Willems, you see, used to be a writer and animator on Sesame Street. (It seems silly to italicise that, but there you are.) And now he writes and illustrates incredible picture books. The ones I have (a present from Maddie) are from two series: I Will Surprise My Friend! from the Elephant & Piggie books, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, featuring a psychotic pigeon that could do with some of Nurse Ratched’s tender ministrations.
These books are seriously cult. They hit the New York Times bestseller list. And it’s easy to see why. Kids must love – and see themselves in – the cheeky humour in these stories. The Pigeon, who spends the whole book begging you to let him drive a big blue bus, tries to slip you a fiver, and says: ‘I bet your mum would let me.’ And adults, the purchasers, must respond to the simple, clean drawings with delight – I’ve already read them both three times.
Elephant Gerald and Piggie are hyper-expressive: when Elephant thinks Piggie has gone missing, his face crumples into a Charlie Brown-style pencil squiggle. But not only that – his trunk slumps right down over his face and his brow creases up like a prune. When Pigeon finally loses it, there are feathers strewn everywhere, and his lidded eye leaves you in no doubt of his disdain for you.
There’s hardly any text in these books – a line per page or two. But the personalities of the characters are bright and clear. When Piggie and Gerald lose track of each other, Gerald gets worried that something has happened to his friend Piggie: perhaps a huge bird has got her in its claws! Or maybe she’s about to get eaten by a monster with giant teeth! And what is Piggie thinking? ‘I am hungry for lunch.’
The good news? I’ll be conducting the final HELLO INTERN interview with Aileen Lord, book design intern at Walker Books. The bad news? There are like a bazillion of these books, and I have a feeling I’m going to have to buy all of them.