To the list of legendary couples in history — Antony and Cleopatra, Napoleon and Josephine, Felix and Oscar — beloved Park Slope kids scribe Mo Willems has added another: Elephant and Piggie.
The Emmy, Caldecott, Geisel and BAMmy award winner and former “Sesame Street” writer is, of course, best known for his clever, witty tomes for non-readers.
From the ne’er-do-well avian of “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,” to the oddball ogre of “Leonardo, the Terrible Monster,” to the tiresome Reginald Von Hoobie Doobie of “Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She was Extinct,” to, of course, Trixie of “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale,” Willems has made a career of churning out memorable characters.
But now, apparently, Willems feels he needs to move on.
I didn’t get where I am today by not letting artists do their own thing. Woe is the critic who shackles an artist of Willems’s gifts and forces him to churn out “Pigeon” sequels year after year after year.
So Willems is now hard at work on an entire new oeuvre and, dare I say it, new legacy: a series of books for early readers featuring Elephant and Piggie, two Jefferson-Adams–style best friends.
Starting with “Today I Will Fly” last year, the series now includes six 50-odd-page books, including the two recent releases, “I Love My New Toy!” and “I Will Surprise My Friend!”
The latter is a droll work, a slapstick romp that plumbs the very notion of why a joke works. In it, Elephant and Piggie watch as two lesser beasts bring themselves to joyful tears by scaring each other. Vowing to experience such joy themselves, Elephant and Piggie set out to scare each other.
While waiting for the inevitable fright from Piggie, Elephant’s thoughts turn to neurotic darkness. He wonders if something dreadful has happened to his friend. He wonders if Piggie has fallen off a cliff.
Meanwhile, the far less emotionally burdened Piggie wonders if Elephant has abandoned the scare game and gone and gotten lunch.
Raucous hijinx ensue.
“I Love My New Toy!” is, frankly, less successful. This time it is Piggie who dwells in the dark part of the porcine soul, holding a grudge against his friend after he breaks her new toy.
Only when a lower beast shows Piggie that the new toy is not, in fact, broken, does the red-faced pinkface try to make amends. But the entire conclusion feels dashed off, as if the master couldn’t quite figure out to repair both the toy and the friends’ relationship (my own solution — dare I even suggest it? — was to have the two friends each take a piece of the broken toy and have them both play with it gleefully — in effect, creating two new toys where there had been only one).
But that is just picking nits (which, I am now reminded, I need to do upon finishing this missive). I believe that Willems has created a masterful new genre and, as such, I await his future Elephant and Piggie creations with the excitement that I once only reserved for a black-tie opening at “Puppetworks.”
©2008 Community News Group
By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:
You agree that you, and not BrooklynPaper.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to BrooklynPaper.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.