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There Is a Bird On Your Head!

thereisabirdMo Willems has become THE master of easy readers. With pre-book work includes Sesame Street and animation, he had the perfect training to create child- and teacher-friendly easy readers. I think he deserves every one of his many awards. What do notice in this deceptively simple book? What does he do with simple shapes and lines in the art and very few words to create distinct characters? Would you share this book with children who are learning to read?

(Note to the Mo fans out there: I recommended a road trip to Amherst MA to visit the Eric Carle Museum. While you are out there, save some time to visit the R. Michelson Gallery in Northhampton where you can see — and buy — original Mo Willems sketches of Elephant and Piggie.)

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Lindsey Horowitz says:

    Even though “There Is a Bird on Your Head!” is an easy reader, I found it exceeded (and changed)my expectations for what an easy reader should be. While I noticed the simple sentences and big print first, I was soon struck by the depth of characterization that Willems develops over the course of the story. I got a sense of Gerald’s anxiety from the furrows in his forehead and the accents next to his eyes, which makes them appear to be bulging with concern. I also understood Piggie’s well-meaning nature, but also her silliness based on the way she throws her whole body into her speech.
    This would be a really fun book to read along with a child who is learning to read – we could even read in parts (one person is Gerald, the other Piggie), then switch for a second reading. Because of the distinct personalities of each character, it would also be a good text for teaching about intonation. I also like that there is a lesson about manners embedded in the text (that Gerald just has to ask the birds politely to move), and that I could talk to a child about what might happen next to Piggie so that she could resolve the situation at the close of the story. What a great introduction to easy readers!

  2. Sara Ralph says:

    One of the most magical reading moments I’ve had as a parent happened with one of the Elephant & Piggie books. My daughter Christine, who is in kindergarten, was reading one to me, and she reads like a kindergartner, usually more focused on decoding words than reading with expression. My second grade daughter Charlotte (who is reading at 4th grade level), was sitting with us. She was sitting patiently while Christine read the words, and then she would repeat what the character said, using expression. I love how Willems uses the text size to show children the emotions of the characters. I think these books will be a part of our reading repertoire long past the point where anyone is beginning to read. That’s what makes these books so magical – they have the qualities of beginning reader book, yet the story is so rich that even an adult can enjoy it. These books rank right up there with Green Eggs and Ham in my opinion.

  3. Janice Chong says:

    I laughed a few times while reading this. Although the book is an easy reader, it’s rich with literary and moral content. The simple text-to-picture matching is perfect for an early reader. Piggie and Gerald show distinct personalities, which helps early readers develop an early understanding of character. The colored speech bubbles, variation in font size, and clear and simple facial expressions provide perfect scaffolding for children to engage with the book. I especially enjoyed the humor threaded throughout the storyline, albeit to Gerald’s expense. The book tied nicely together at the end with Gerald learning to ask for favors politely, instead of exploding in frustration–a great reinforcement for kids at this age. Many good children’s books have a humorous twist at the end, as did this one. Although simple at first glance, the book is rich and very helpful in easing young children into reading–very developmentally appropriate!

  4. Sarah Cooper says:

    I hadn’t read this particular Elephant and Piggie book before, but I’ve enjoyed many of the others with my 3 year old. Even though she is not reading yet, this is such a fun series to read out loud.Mo Willems has the capability to appeal to kids and adults through his rich characters and use of humor. I could see using this in a classroom and pairing readers to act out the story, since Elephant and Piggie have such a fun dynamic, and the colored speech bubbles would help beginning readers figure out how dialogue works.

  5. Nell O'Donnell says:

    I’m a big Mo Willems fan (I love Edwina, The Elephant Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct and Leonard: The Terrible Monster) and back when I worked as reading tutor, I owuld often read his books to the children I worked with. Around that time, I came across the Elephant and Piggie books and I remember thinking that they were so dull compared to so many of Willems’ other books. I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me that they were easy readers, not picture books! It must have just been that I was so used to thinking of Willems as a picture book author and that these books were just too nice (in terms of paper quality and binding) and too silly to be easy readers (which are often much, much more dull than these and definintely not funny). So, it was extra nice to read an Elephant and Piggie book with a new perspective and appreciate it for what it is (an easy reader!).

  6. Shannon Moran says:

    “There Is a Bird on Your Head!” by Mo Willems is a great book for beginning readers. Elephant and Piggie really stand out as characters on the white pages. Additionally, Willems colors the text bubbles of each character to match the colors of their bodies, making it clear who is speaking. Capitalization and text size are used to indicate when Gerald is shouting, e.g. “HATCHING?” (p.38). The emotions of each character are apparent in the character’s faces and gestures. Willems also uses dotted lines to indicate movement. I am not familiar with easy readers, however I feel that the textual elements of this book would help facilitate students who are just lust learning to read. Additionally, the book has a humorous tone and memorable characters that I feel kids would really enjoy.

  7. Long Phan says:

    “There Is a Bird on Your Head” was my favorite reading this week. This was my first Mo Willems book and I found myself laughing out loud (LOL’ing) at times. I loved Elephant’s expressions–especially when he was shocked–which was most of the time. I really enjoyed the design choices such as grey word bubbles for Elephant and pink word bubbles for Piggie, large font when Elephant was yelling and small font when Piggie was responding sarcastically, a solo bird pattern on the front endpapers and a family of birds pattern on the back endpapers. My favorite touch was on the back endpapers–where every family of birds looked the same except one…because he was eating a hamburger!

  8. Christina Grayson says:

    There’s one word that comes to mind for me when I consider Mo Willem’s quiet genuis: expressive. I absolutely adore the Elephant and Piggie series for its characters’ emotional exuberance despite their quite economical and limited dialogue. I possess a few of these books in my classroom library collection, but “There’s a Bird On My Head!” was new to me. The physicality of the drawings are appealing and reach a reader, regardless of age or reading competence. Should the reader be able to read the pictures, the furrows of brows, the beadiness of startled eyes, the wrinkles of a boundless grin, he or she has already been successful. That’s what I love so much about these books–the pictures convey the story in a way that automates connection and portrays vulnerability that meets and welcomes the shy reader. I saw my most reluctant and stagnant readers transformed mentally by Willem’s works. The drawings, different on each page and conveying action and changing emotion, really heighten the experience of reading such simple, repetitive text. (In fact, it wasn’t until Lolly called it out that I noticed that the text itself was pretty stock… but it conveys the innocence and openness of the characters so well!) It’s official: Mo Willem’s is up there, right along with Norman Bridwell, for authors I kind of wish were never born, so I could have written those books first. <3

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