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That Is NOT a Good Idea!

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.
Funny books with cartoon illustrations have a hard time next to painterly ones, so this book is going to need a champion on the committee to keep it on the Caldecott table.
What else can this champion say to make her case?
Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. I’m not a huge fan of this one, but your write-up has me scrambling to get my hands on a copy. Especially because I didn’t realize there was a cast of characters listed – makes me wonder if I may have missed some other important details along the way!

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I like this one, but it’s such a strong year . . .

    1. I did assume the mother geese/baby geese relationship despite not seeing the CIP/dedication page. It’s a wonderful subversion of the kind of story where the mother fox is hunting for the baby foxes.

    2. I use this picture book to teach inference to children of all ages. It’s a bait and switch. You think you’re reading one story, you get to the end, and then you have to mentally recalibrate the story in order to understand what just happened.

  3. As a K-5 reading teacher I have used this book numerous times with students to teach inferencing and predicting. The students LOVE the surprise ending! It makes for a terrific read aloud. However, the illustrations are a bit confusing in that most students think that the goose is a chicken and that the goslings look like baby chicks. I have to agree with them on that point. Even as an adult I was confused by the goose and gosling portrayals in the illustrations.

  4. I’m a big Mo Willems fan, but I think your point about the goslings really hits home – they look much more like chicks. I can buy that Mom is waterfowl of some kind, although I saw duck before goose. But unless all her kids are adopted, the illustrations do confuse the relationship more than is necessary to keep the twist at the end a surprise. In such a strong year, this one does not stand out for its illustration although I do hope it’s a Geisel candidate. I can’t help comparing the rich black pages of THE DARK with the black pages in THIS and finding them more distinguished.

  5. I felt like this was a strong one early in the year and I still think it has potential to win a silver. I think the use of the black and white text pages juxtaposed with the full color picture pages are perfectly reminiscent of old talkies and I love the effect it gives the book. It’s so clever and well done that I think it’s worth looking at.

    I also love how things are hidden throughout-there’s so much to look for in each page. And once you know the ending, it’s so much fun to go back and re-read it knowing the true outcome and seeing things in a new light.

    I think I got that they were baby geese, but I thought they were more a chorus of voices than anything else. But I love the surprise reveal at the end-and a fantastic twist to surprise readers. I’ve used this one with teens as a read aloud and they love it.

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