Elephant & Piggie


Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie Reviewed by Susan Fry

One of the toughest things about learning to read – other than those pesky, reversible “ds” and “bs” – is that most books for early readers are boring.  There’s an incredibly frustrating gap between the simple words kids can recognize and the exciting books they can understand when grownups read to them.  True, there’s only so much an author can do with rats, mats, and cats.  But a dull book can make reading a chore for adults and kids alike.

Thank goodness for Mo Willems!  His Elephant & Piggie books are deceptively simple.  But in just a few words, Willems can sketch out caring relationships, wacky pranks, and, in some cases, a postmodernist worldview that will have parents laughing out loud.

Willems’ illustrations are spare to the point of stark.  The backgrounds are an unadorned white.  The two main characters, Elephant and Piggie, are often the only creatures on the page, along with an occasional friend or a prop such as a ball or silly hat.

Because the pages are otherwise empty, the words are the main focus.

Kids might find a few longer words, but the most are short, in simple sentences with few contractions.  And Willems’ clever use of fonts teaches kids how to read with expression.  Multiple exclamation points and question marks clue kids into reading sentences with hysterical glee.  They’ll whisper words in tiny type and emphasize the italicized ones.  Instead of reading with the monotone so common in beginning readers, kids wind up performing these books, which is more fun for everyone involved.

Try them all.  But here are a few of my favorites.

Can I Play Too?  Elephant and Piggie want to play catch.  But when their friend Snake wants to join in, they all face a dilemma:  Snake doesn’t have any arms!  When throwing the ball at Snake means he gets bonked on the head, they make Snake himself into the ball.

I Broke My Trunk!  How did Elephant break his trunk?  His story involves lifting rhinos, hippos, and pianos.  The final answer, and Piggie’s reaction, is truly giggle-worthy.

We Are in a Book!  Elephant and Piggie realize they’re being watched:  by the reader.

“This is so cool!” they exclaim, and then make the reader say “banana” again and again.  But when Elephant gets nervous about the end of the book, Piggie has a solution:  ask the reader to read it again.  The final, brilliant touch?  Readers will only understand the first page after finishing the whole book.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

You can check out the Sweet Peas & Stilettos’ children’s books page for quick access to all of Susan’s wonderful children’s book reviews.

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