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The Pigeon wants an iPad

If you’ve read any of Mo Willems’s books (or his Sutherland lecture “Why Books”), it will come as no surprise that his app Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App! (Disney, October 2011) is kid-centric and slyly subversive.

The friendly bus driver from Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! introduces a Mad Lib–like story starring The Pigeon. He then leaves the scene — “I’ve gotta go visit some pals in your other apps” — making the user boss of both the wheedling Pigeon and the story itself.

Before the story begins, the user answers prompts (e.g., “What’s your favorite snack?”, “Finish this sentence: “Don’t let the Pigeon…”) to fill in gaps in the narrative. Three ways of responding offer different levels of user interaction and control.

In the simplest mode, users shake their device to randomize wacky phrases and complete the story. The next level supplies three options for each question, selected by tapping the screen. In the most complex mode, the user voices their contributions aloud; the app then replays the responses during the narrative. These various options allow for infinite, customized stories which are, as the title screen says, truly by “Mo Willems and YOU”. Favorite stories may then be saved and revisited later. The tiered levels make this app great for sharing across a range of ages.

record your answer to create a unique Pigeon story

This animated and Willems-voiced version of The Pigeon makes his typically over-the-top reactions even more fun as he pleads with the user to let him [fill in the blank]. A chorus of kids’ voices respond with a resounding (and gleeful) “NO!”, inviting users to do the same.

In a Pigeon-drawing tutorial section of the app, Willems narrates the process step-by-step in approachable terms as each simple shape (such as “the letter O” and “the patented Mo Willems circ-angle”) is demonstrated on the screen. This section also offers a blank canvas for non-Pigeon pictures. As with the user-created stories, favorite pictures can be saved (and occasionally show up in stories as “priceless works of art”).

tutorial showing “the patented Mo Willems circ-angle” in action

Willems says in his Sutherland lecture that books need readers “to do the work with our little minds and our flapping flights of fancy. So suddenly, that book is not just a book, it’s our book. We’re the ones making it work.” This is the first app I’ve seen that needs a user to make it work — staying true to Willems’s concept of story even as a digital original.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 5.1 or later); $5.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.



  1. Not one for apps, but this and William Joyce’s one are very intriguing. Not intriguing enough to drop $500+ on an iPad, but thinking, well, yeah, I’d buy that for $4.99 (or whatever).

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  1. […] second app, offers five activities populated by animated characters from his books. As in Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App!, there’s lots of interactive Willems […]

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