If you have young children who are just beginning to master their A-B-Cs, a new book from Mo Willems is a huge deal, as anticipated by the whole family as the next Pixar movie. That makes April 3 a celebratory event, because the artist and author of such repeatedly fun-to-read stories about Elephant and Piggie, Knuffle Bunny, and Cat the Cat is releasing The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?
Note the exclamation and question marks, because the title is an incredulous remark from Willems’ most persistent creation, the Pigeon who wants to drive the bus, eat a hot dog, stay up late, etc., but now can’t believe the cute little Duckling got a cookie — just by asking!! “This is a story that had been percolating for many years,” says Willems, who last wrote about Pigeon in 2008. “Every time I would start a new project, [I could feel] him sort of pecking at my head. So this is kind of my revenge book. I’ve had him be frustrated before. I’ve had him even get what he wants and then realize that isn’t what he really wants. But I haven’t really had him come sort of beak-to-beak with the concept of injustice.”
With this story, which is marked by Willems’ trademark artistic efficiency that serves to showcase his characters’ personalities, parents of more than one child will certainly recognize the Pigeon’s outrage over the good fortune of the Duckling. “There’s definitely a sibling relationship between these two characters,” says Willems. “I want every book to sort of have a different take, have a different angle, express a different set of emotions or questions that I don’t quite know yet. And sharing is such a complicated issue.”
The book is a certain hit — Disney Publishing has initially printed 250,000 copies — but for Willems, the jury remains out until he personally brings the book to his audience. “The book isn’t alive yet for me because it hasn’t been read,” says the author, he begins a reading tour this Sunday. “So I’m not really sure of it yet. Right now, it’s backstage putting on its bow-tie, and I don’t know what’s going to happen when it goes out there. That’s the exciting part. These next couple of weeks are really exciting for me.”
The Emmy-winning former writer from Sesame Street did a pretty decent Cookie Monster impression, no? Willems admits he might need a stunt double for his next cinematic feeding frenzy. “Later, I was in a pretty important board meeting with 20 or 30 people, and there were just crumbs pouring out of my clothes,” he remembers. “I would lean back [in my chair] and there would be this weird crunching sound.”
And what of his wanton cruelty towards the pigeon population, his wasteful gorging of the very delight Pigeon so craves. This book may have been his revenge, but is he prepared for their aerial retribution? “I always wear a hat,” he cracks. “Ever since the first book came out, that has been the policy.”