Welcome to Saint Louis, Mo!
by Tif Sweeney, Walrus Contributor
It was a big night in Saint Louis on April 2 when acclaimed children’s author Mo Willems came to town. Willems began his career on the much-loved Sesame Street, and over the last decade, he has written books that have notonly won Caldecott Honors and Geisel Awards, but the hearts of children and parents as well. What better way to welcome this man to our city than with signs all over the airport, “Welcome to Saint Louis, Mo!”
Willems was touring through Saint Louis for his two latest releases, The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?, starring the lovable Pigeon, and Listen to My Trumpet!, featuring the best of friends, Elephant and Piggie.
The night began with a multitude of stipulations: limited photos, no flash photography, and one audience member being called out to put the phone away! All of this seems a bit overboard, but there was a purpose: Willems wanted every single person in the audience to stop everything and be truly in the moment. Setting down my notes and instead, cuddling with my children, I followed directions and found myself swept away into an hour of goofiness and giggles. Willems brought alive his characters, reading both new releases and bringing down the house with laughs coming from everyone in the audience.
We got a deeper look into Willems’ writing during the question and answer session. He primarily uses animals for his main characters because they can be and do anything with no restrictions on sex, race, etc. Going even deeper into his childhood, he disclosed a favorite memory about when he wrote a letter to Charles Schultz asking if he could have the cartoonist’s job when he died. Willems’ dad never mailed that letter; however years later, Schultz’s widow gave Willems a pen from the artist’s stash–the very pen that created another one of Willem’s beloved characters, the Naked Mole Rat. And as far as which of his own books is his favorite–it turns out, he loves them all! Since his books are like his children, he has no favorites.
If I was not already impressed with this night of entertainment, Willems’ closing topped it all. He kindly asked all teachers and librarians in the audience to raise their hands. He then jokingly asked them all how it felt to sit there with a raised hand, but quickly changed gears to a serious note, asking the remaining audience to give these special people a round of applause.
Willems was already a favorite in my household before we spent a night experiencing his personal entertainment. After the night of truly being in the moment, laughing freely and seeing the twinkle of fun in the eyes of my children, Willems has been moved up to instant classic and his books are a must for our personal library. For a few of my family’s favorites, you can read Give Me Some Mo.
A special thank you to Saint Louis County Library for their entertainment before and after the show. You can view pictures of the entire night by checking the SLCL Flickr album. To experience Willems visit his website or blog for fun, games, and instant love and laughs.