A couple of semesters ago, when I was teaching “Children’s Literature” at Colorado Northwestern Community College, my students and I explored the books written by Mo Willems. The students, some with children, checked out lots of his books from the library and took them home to study and read to their kids. Willems quickly became one of our favorite authors.
Willems is a three-time Caldecott Honor winner (for illustrations) and the recipient of two Geisel Medals and two Geisel Honors. In addition, before he started writing and illustrating children’s books, Willems was a writer and animator on “Sesame Street” where he won six Emmys.
This week’s column reviews his new picture book.
“That Is Not a Good Idea!” doesn’t have many words — just enough to get the message across, and the illustrations are lively and expressive. The pages of the book are designed as frames from an old-time movie without sound. The lettering is white on a black background. The charming illustrations are in color.
The “players” in the book are Hungry Fox, Plump Goose and Baby Geese (six of them, in fact). Plump Goose is white with a big orange bill and huge yellow eyes. She wears a blue kerchief on her head and carries a basket over her wing.
Hungry Fox is dressed in a brown suit, shirt, tie and vest. He wears a tall brown hat with a pink hatband. The goslings are egg-shaped and yellow. One has part of an eggshell on its head; another wears glasses; still another has a bow tie — in other words, each is a little different from the others.
So, as the story begins, Hungry Fox and Plump Goose are walking along a street (an observant reader will note the animals peeking through windows of their houses). Fox tips his hat. Goose is shy. Fox wants to know if Goose would like to go for a stroll. (Is Fox a gentleman? His facial expression hints otherwise.)
Goose thinks it over and says, “Hmm…sure!”
One gosling warns, “That is NOT a good idea!”
As they walk over a bridge, Fox wants to know if Plump Goose would like to go into the deep, dark woods. The gosling with the bow tie warns that it REALLY NOT a good idea! Another gosling looks worried. Still another peeks onto the page.
And so the story continues in this manner as Hungry Fox lures Hungry Goose to his house and into his kitchen. As the excitement builds, the goslings become more and more emphatic that it isn’t a good idea, and finally all six goslings enter an illustration that takes up two pages. The story ends with a twist.
“That Is Not a Good Idea!” is intended for ages four through eight, but both kids and the adults who read the book to them will enjoy it! It’s delightful!
The book is published by Balzer + Bray, An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers (2013). It costs about $17.99 in hardcover.
Willems has written and illustrated a wealth of other picture books, including a pop-up book. One of my favorites is “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” In this book, a truck driver parks his bus and appeals to the reader to not let the pigeon drive his bus. The pigeon tries everything he can think of to get to drive the bus, including throwing a gigantic tantrum. The pigeon makes a cameo appearance in other Willems books, including “That Is Not a Good Idea!” but the reader will have to search a little bit to find him.