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There Is a Bird On Your Head | Class #2, 2016

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.

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  1. Jacqueline Scherr says:

    I really enjoyed this book and would definitely share it with children learning to read! One thing I noticed Mo does very well is create emotions. Based on the body and facial expressions of the characters, readers can learn a lot about the characters feelings and actions. For instance, it was easy to tell elephant was annoyed with the birds on his head. On the last page, no words were needed for readers to know piggie was annoyed the birds landed on her head. I noticed this book tells a simple story with humor and even surprise elements at the end. I was not expecting the birds to move off elephant’s head and onto piggie’s! I think children would appreciate the simplicity of the characters and find humor in the story.

  2. Iliana Gutierrez says:

    Rereading this book brought back many memories of the moments I read the Elephant & Piggy series to both my Kindergartners and fifth graders. The straightforward and simple language gave room to for me to emulate the expressions and demeanor of the two characters during our read alouds in a way that made my students burst into laughter, no matter how many times we read it.
    While the book is labeled as an easy reader, I think what made it so well-loved by all my students was that it really reads as a play. The exchange of question and response on each page–interspersed with moments of REAAAAAAAACTIONS!!!!– and paired with the timely pacing of a good joke caught in the illustrations begs not so much to be read but to be acted. With my fifth graders, this book became an example of how much LIFE can really be captured on the page and gave us a way of speaking about the elements of a good story.

  3. Kate Cunningham says:

    The books of Mo Willems were a lifesaver to me as an elementary school administrator. Children often transferred into my school at grades 1-2 but with reading levels much lower than students who had been there since K. As many teachers out there know, it’s a delicate balancing act to get older children to read books on a low level because many of them look babyish. However, Elephant and Piggy books were loved by readers who could access higher texts – so when my lower readers were reading them independently, they never felt like they “stuck out.” Mo is a master at using a rather limited number of words to express humor and emotions. Somehow the deceptively simple lines and shapes make the changes in facial expressions even funnier. As Iliana alluded to with the “REACTIONS,” the design of this book also works really well to support readers’ understanding (especially of the humor). The comic-like speech bubbles help young readers to understand and attribute dialogue, and enlarged text for big reactions helps them to grasp the emotion.

  4. Erin King says:

    I had a blast reading this book! I used to read easy readers by Mo Willems when I was a child, and re-experiencing it from the lens of an educator was insightful for me. I especially appreciated the humor in the book — it is not hard to see why children of all ages love these stories. I love how a book that seems simple is able to capture a reader’s interest and keep it throughout the entire book even with the “easy reader” type language. I think Mo Willems does an amazing job of keeping the language accessible for readers at a lower level while still providing an engaging and funny story that keeps the reader intrigued. I can only imagine how difficult it is to provide a meaningful experience for the reader and make the story funny while also abiding by the other restrictions of writing an easy-reader book. I am looking forward to having some of his books in my fourth grade classroom next year!

  5. Joanna Craig says:

    I agree with Erin’s comment regarding the nature of the language included in this book. I loved it! I think that the author does an amazing job of including enough repetition for students to become familiar with all of the different words, while also changing the language enough so that the book is also intriguing and exciting. I also think that the characters behave in ways that children themselves would behave – for example, I can absolutely see a child answering the way Piggie does when he says “No, now there are two birds on your head!” Additionally, the author does a great job of using color to differentiate between the characters and the words that they are saying. Elephant is gray, and so are his words, and Piggie and his words are pink. I would imagine that this makes it even easier for children to trade back and forth between characters, or for them to follow along when a parent or teacher is reading using different voices. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, even as an adult – especially the ending!

  6. Sarah Cole says:

    Mo does do a really great job of expressing emotions both with the dialogue and the illustrations. More importantly, I think the emotions are super relatable for kids! I think a lot of children (especially boys) would also be perturbed in a grossed out way to find out they were looking at “love birds” because the thought of romantic love is still pretty icky to them. I can totally see a third grader making the same exact expression as Elephant on page 18.

  7. Carla Cevallos says:

    I had the joy of reading this book to a first-grader a couple of days ago, and that experience made me understand Early Readers’ aim in a totally different way! Indeed, even though that little boy is still learning to read, several of the features that people have been commenting about (the characters’ facial expressions in the pictures, the words size emphasizing reactions, the easy flow of the story) helped him to remain very engaged and feel that he was participating of the reading process (because he understood, even when he’s still struggling with decoding). Repetition was also a clue facilitating element, since soon enough he could guess what the next question would be because all of them followed a similar pattern. However, the inclusion of surprise and humor prevented the story from becoming repetitive, which I think might be a particular challenge for Early Readers books.

  8. Jason Brown says:

    I too enjoyed this easy read. While, reading I noticed a lot of opportunity for exaggerated expression. The first time I read it, I found myself reading quickly in a monotone voice (in my head). I then made myself reread it, as if I were reading to a young child. The book came alive so much more!
    It would be great fun to read this with several people- one cold voice the elephant, another the pig, and another could be the “cheeping” of the birds. In addition, there’s room to practice counting (eggs, birds) which brings math into literacy time.
    Overall, a great simple read. I’d never even heard of this series until now.

  9. Jason Brown says:

    Sorry- accidentally submitted my prior post without rereading/editing it.

    I too enjoyed this easy read. While reading, I noticed a lot of opportunity for exaggerated expression. The first time I read it, I found myself reading quickly in a monotone voice (in my head). I then made myself reread it, as if I were reading to a young child. The book came alive so much more!
    It would be great fun to read this with several people- one could voice the elephant, another the pig, and another could be the “cheeping” of the birds. In addition, there’s room to practice counting (eggs, birds) which brings math into literacy time.
    Overall, a great simple read. I’d never even heard of this series until now!

  10. Yumeng Fang says:

    I was initially attracted to this book by its combination of colors and the cute drawings with facial expressions on the cover. The light yellow and the light blue were perfect in painting a friendly and harmless tone to a book. As I read through the book for the first time, I find myself kept turning the page, consciously amused by the story. And since each page is so simple with pictures and words, I would imagine it to be very easy for children to get the gist of each page – yet each drawing was complex enough to scrutize, particularly the facial expressions and gestures of the characters. I was reminded of the brief mentioning of the tactile experience of reading – I believe that the simple complexity on each page prompts the children to turn the page constantly – giving them a sense of satisfaction while being emerged in the reading experience!

  11. Ken Hagberg says:

    This book was definitely my favorite! I’m probably biased though as I already had it practically memorized after having used it to teach ESL abroad a few years ago. It’s simple language flows well and tells an engaging story, but what I appreciated most were the pictures. When working with students with vastly different reading levels in a single class those who were farthest behind could still understand the story based on the illustrations alone. They also provide valuable context clues for figuring the words out.

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