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There Is a Bird On Your Head | Class #2 2015

thereisabirdMo Willems has become THE master of easy readers. With pre-book work including 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 you 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. Sara Gordon says:

    This book actually made me laugh; the entire time, I was thinking about the relationship between Elephant and Piggie and comparing them to Pooh and Piglet. Their friendship is so sweet and pure, and although the illustrations appear relatively simple and repetitive, there is a fair amount of movement, as shown by the dotted/dashed lines when Elephant actually moves sideways (when he is jumping away from the bird(s) on his head). I love when Piggie starts crying out of joy when the birds hatch. Again, this is a sweet moment that the two friends share. I also found the lesson at the end, which I interpreted as “Just ask nicely for what you want or need, and often people (or in this case, birds) will understand and respect that.”

  2. Hannah Hanssens-Reed says:

    I really appreciated Sara’s comment about the movement in the book’s illustrations. Elephant and Piggie, despite their simple outline and color fill bodies, have so much expression in their faces and actions. As I read this, I imagined a young reader giggling at the frustration, terror, anger, confusion, exasperation in Elephant’s reaction to the birds. Mo Willems is really brilliant in his use of blank space, rather than overwhelming a young reader with elaborate backgrounds and detail. I have wondered though why the careful (slightly more uptight) character often wears glasses.

  3. Geri Low says:

    This book amused me a lot! I was not expecting a story like that – was really caught by surprised when I read that the birds were in love! I thought it was a really humorous way of teaching children about reproduction, as well as being polite. Two very different themes, but woven in a very interesting way in this book. Though meant as an early reader book, I read this book to my 2 year old and he burst out laughing when he saw Elephant shouting and looking distressed when he realized that there were birds on his head. The illustrations capture the emotions of the characters really well, with the use of exaggeration, but it really helped to convey their feelings to the young reader, without explicitly saying so in words.

  4. Amy Louer says:

    Mo Willems is able to infuse a similar level of hilarity into this simple easy reading book as he is in his more complex children’s picture books. I will echo what Sara said, in suggesting that the dynamic relationship between Elephant and Piggie really makes for an engaging piece of work, both for new readers and adult reviewers. I specifically appreciate the simplicity of page design. It allows the reader to focus their efforts on words themselves, as well as the emotions of the characters.

  5. Samantha Song says:

    I’m noticing that books meant for younger readers, such as Mr.Tiger and this one, seem to be mostly or exclusively characterized by animals that tell the story, or sometimes inanimate objects. I wonder if this has to do with a child’s developmental stage and his/her level of self-awareness as a person. This book has very animated animal characters with human characteristics, feelings, expressions, and relatable actions. In fact, very childlike reactions to those circumstances, as evidenced by the elephant and his overall silliness. I wer if this has to do with a child’s developmental stage and his/her level of self-awareness as a person.

    As a young child, I tended to gravitate toward books with animal characters. It may be because I related to the spirit and exemplification of those characters and felt more distant to human characters that didn’t look like me.

  6. I love this book! When I was teacher, my kids adored this book and found it very funny. I think Mo Willems does a fantastic job of using simple drawings to really express the emotions- confusion and frustration that the characters experience in all of his book, but especially elephant in this one. I especially like this book because young children can relate to the experience of having something bother them, and not know quite what do to do solve the problem. I would absolutely give this book to an early reader because so many of the words are repeated and since the pictures are straight forward they can be used to give context clues on what the words might say.

  7. Moses Kim says:

    This book is so adorable. I especially appreciate that Gerald and Piggie were best friends of different genders, which is such a small detail but something I imagine would mean a lot to kids at the book’s intended age level (I also teach kids who can’t stand working with people who aren’t of their gender, which definitely colors my observations, hahaa). Another thing I noticed with the book’s writing style is that when a phrase is introduced, it’s repeated, which both has the effect of turning this into something of a comedy routine (like Who’s On First?) and helping kids follow the development of the story.

  8. Josh Jenkins says:

    I appreciated Mo Williems play with punctuation in There Is a Bird On Your Head! I can envision fluency/prosody work with students in which teachers model how voice changes based on question or declarative statement (e.g., “There’s a bird on my head?” from the elephant and “There’s a bird on your head.” from the pig.)

  9. Allison Bates says:

    “There is a Bird on your Head” was engaging and very funny, and I really liked the contrast between this book and some of the other books we read this week. Specifically, the moment-to-moment changes in facial expression and short sentences gave the reader the sense of moving through the story in real time. The reader experiences surprise and humor at the same time as the characters in the story, in contrast to other children’s books in which the reader can see only one individual scene to represent a series of events. I agree with what others said about the visual representation of motion — I think it further serves to connect readers to the story.

  10. I love this book and I love Mo Willems. This book keeps kids engaged and giggling the whole time. Willems does some great things with the dialogue that allows the reader to use lots of inflection to get lots of laughs. Great book!

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