Splendid piece in the New Yorker about children’s-book author and illustrator Mo Willem. I'd not heard of him before but I want to read them now, I might need to borrow some of children to do some readings.
I like this about the difference between a story that's a song and a story that's a score -
"The challenge for me is that my goal is to be funny, but within the constraint of using only about forty to fifty words,” Willems told me. “That’s why I say that early readers are hard writers—writing them isn’t easy.” They have to be short and immediately engaging, but they can’t rely on punch lines. “I sometimes joke that I write for functional illiterates,” Willems added. “Because these stories aren’t meant to be read once—they’re meant to be read a thousand times. In that way, they’re more like a song than like the score for a film. You don’t listen to ‘A Boy Named Sue’ for the ending.”
I like this about how hard it can be to do 'simple' (especially "“I wish I couldn’t draw the way you can’t draw, and couldn’t write the way that you can’t write.”) -
The kids’ books I remember from my childhood were for the most part not particularly funny. Instead, they were distinguished by being especially imaginative or touching or beautiful or rhyming. “Jumanji” or “Corduroy” or “The Snowy Day” or “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” Willems’s books often consist merely of cartoon characters speaking in word bubbles. His friend Norton Juster, who wrote “The Phantom Tollbooth,” likes to tease him, saying, “I wish I couldn’t draw the way you can’t draw, and couldn’t write the way that you can’t write.” One can “read” Willems’s stories not just through the words but through the shifting shapes and space, through the changing type sizes. He said, “I try and make the emotional dynamic between the characters readable just from their silhouettes.” The animator Tom Warburton, his longtime friend and occasional collaborator, told me, “I know parents who think, These books are so easy to make, there’s so few words, the drawings are simple, I could do that. People have no idea how much work goes into achieving simplicity.”
And I like this about, basically, presenting. About surrendering your dignity for your audience -
At a Mo Willems reading, you are likely to find a very full auditorium of small people and the larger people who care for them. Willems walks onstage like a man who knows how to walk onstage: “Hi, I’m Mo Willems, and I’m . . . a balloon salesman.” The children shout, “No!” “I’m Mo Willems, and I’m a . . . corporate attorney specializing in tax affairs.” No! Willems onstage is all big gestures and hats, a different character from the adult you encounter offstage. If you are moved, as I am, when adults set aside their dignity in order to make kids happy, you will find these readings very affecting. Willems is a ham: his ego is absent, his audience’s happiness is all. After he reads, the kids ask questions. Then it often ends like this: Willems says, “Any librarians or teachers in the audience today? Raise your hands. Higher. Higher.” He pauses. Looks out. “Now back and forth a little bit, to try and get my attention.” The first time I saw this, I was waiting for him to suggest that we all clap. But that’s not how jokes work. Willems just says, “Well, now you see how it feels.”
February 04, 2017 | Permalink