Mo Willems is an author and illustrator whose works in children’s books, animation, television, theater, and bubble gum card painting have garnered him three Caldecott Honors, two Geisel Medals, six Emmy Awards, five Geisel Honors, a Helen Hayes nomination, and multiple bubble gum cards. He is best known for his characters “Knuffle Bunny,” “The Pigeon”, and “Elephant and Piggie” and his work as a writer and animator for PBS’s “Sesame Street”. He is also known for his work on Cartoon Network’s “Sheep in the Big City” and Nickelodeon’s “The Off-Beats”. Mo also makes sculptures and writes plays.
Mo is a #1 New York Times Bestseller for his children’s books yet he also published an illustrated memoir of his year-long trip around the world in 1990-1991 entitled “You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons” and “Don’t Pigeonhole Me!” a collection of 20 years of his annual sketchbooks. His books have been translated into over 20 languages.
Mo’s drawings, wire sculptures, and sculpture have exhibited in numerous galleries and museums across the nation, including major retrospectives at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA, the High Museum in Atlanta, GA, The New York Historical Society, and the Seongnam Arts Center in Seoul, South Korea. His graphic story about his family experiences during 9-11 for DC comics resides in the Library of Congress’ permanent collection.
Mo has been heard on NPR’s “All Things Considered”, where he briefly served as the broadcast’s ‘Radio Cartoonist’. Mo also voices and produces animated cartoons based on his books with Weston Woods studios which have been screened at festivals around the world and won Best Film during the New York International Children’s Film Festival and 3 Carnegie Medals from the American Library Association. His monumental sculpture, “The Red Elephant”, can be viewed in the courtyard of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
In addition, Mo has written the script and lyrics for “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” and “Elephant and Piggie’s WE ARE IN A PLAY!” Both plays were commissioned by and debuted at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and consistently run in productions around the nation. Mo Willems currently lives in Massachusetts with his family. Recently, he spoke to the Examiner about his experiences as an author and artist:
Meagan Meehan (M.M.): Growing up, what artists and illustrators inspired you?
Mo Willems (M.W.): As a child I was deeply drawn both to Fiep Westendorp, a popular Dutch illustrator whose books were in my house thanks to my immigrant parents, and Charles Schulz, whose PEANUTS strip provided humor, friendship, and solace.
M.M.: You have created so many memorable characters. How did you get the ideas for them?
M.W.: Ideas are not gotten; they are grown. It’s a long laborious process of coaxing out stories of characters or situations that requires patience and empathy. Briefly, it helps if you always think of your audience, never think for your audience.
M.M.: Do you have a favorite book?
M.W.: Books are like your children; some grow up to be disappointments, but you have to say you love them all the same. I love my books all the same.
M.M.: Your books also inspired toys from YOTTOY. What was it like to see your characters as plush toys?
M.W.: At a recent signing I saw a tough young boy hugging the heck out of a stuffed Pigeon Bus. This kid wouldn’t feel comfortable with a bunny or something he would consider “baby” or “un-masculine”, yet he needed to hug something, to have an object to love. That’s pretty powerful and I’m happy to be able to help provide bits of comfort and friendship to young kids who all, no matter how loved they are at home, could use a special pal.
M.M.: To date, what has been the most rewarding part of being an author?
M.W.: Being read and laughed at.
M.M.: What advice would you give someone who is aspiring to be a children’s book author?
M.W.: Here is my “Formula for Success in a Career”: LUCK over TIME plus ABILITY multiplied by WORK equals success in career. The more LUCK one has over the shorter period of TIME, the better (although consistent luck over consistent TIME is quite good). With zero LUCK or TIME, success is possible, but harder and more dependent on ABILITY. One can succeed with no ABILITY, but that requires an extraordinary amount of LUCK (and is very unusual). The only element that cannot be zero (without rendering the entire equation a zero) is WORK. Since WORK is a multiplier of LUCK, TIME, and ABILITY it is the most important as well as the only essential element of the equation. WORK is also the only element (with the exception of TIME) that you have the slightest bit of control over. I hope that helps. Now get to work.
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To learn more about Mo Willems visit his official website and Twitter.