Those of you with children under the age of five are experts on Mo Willems — Knuffle Bunny, Elephant and Piggie, the Pigeon. This year’s must-have book for the Willems fan is That Is NOT a Good Idea! It’s a hilarious hybrid: part silent movie, part picture book; part cautionary tale, part inside joke. But will it catch the eye of the Caldecott committee this year? With three honors under his belt already, will Mo finally get the gold medal?
I say no. But I think there is certainly a chance for a four-peat on a silver.
Here is why:
- Willems’s pacing is impeccable. That animation training really shows itself here. The black pages with white text are reminiscent of old-time silent movies — I can just imagine a piano playing its racing tunes to build suspense. The read-aloud audience will be yelling at the goose at every page turn.
- The CIP/dedication page contains a hint that is easy to miss. The cast of characters (“the Players”) are listed there: Hungry Fox, Plump Goose, and Baby Geese. I totally missed this the first three times through and thought that the little round yellow birds had no relation to the main character. The twist at the end tells us the truth, but the list of players on the dedication page confirms it and gives the reader a pleasant “duh” feeling later.
- Words are unnecessary for the story. (But the words are mostly easy to sound out — a bonus for the Geisel committee!)
- The illustrations tell the whole story and contain amusing details that will keep the reader looking deeper. Is that Knuffle Bunny peeking out the window? Does Pigeon have a place on a coat of arms, along with a unicorn? Do the mother goose’s eyes tilt at just the right moment to let the reader know she has a trick or two up her sleeve? (And are her eyes just like Pigeon’s?) The fox’s sly grin, the goose’s fake blush, and the goslings’ bossiness and apparent terror add to the tension, don’t they.
- The use of color adds so much to the story: those yellow baby geese on beige backgrounds, the black text pages, and the dusty brown city play well together.