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Laughing While Learning: Must Read Mo Willems Books

Last summer, I took my two sons to the library. As they played in the children’s section of the library, I searched for books to read to them. Once I gathered all of the books, my youngest son ran up to me and placed a book in my hand. I looked at it and did not think it was worth reading. It was a simple looking book with a pig and elephant on it. I was only willing to give it a try because of my son’s enthusiasm. He said, “Daddy Daddy, I want to read this one!”

I checked the book out of the library and placed it at the bottom of the library book stack. I read all of the books I thought were meaningful first, then I finally got to this pig and elephant book .

Once I read the Willems’ book, both of my sons laughed and laughed! So of course, I read it again and again and again! I couldn’t believe how much they loved the book. Reading one of these books quickly convinced me that Mo Willems is a genius. After reading that one book, Elephant and Piggie books became a permanent part of our reading time experience.

Graphic containing text boxes labeled, Emotions, Dialogue, Complex Ideas, Humor, Friendship.

Willems’ Piggie and Elephant book series does four things well. First, these books teach children the importance of friendship. Second, the simplistic illustrations capture the emotions like happiness, sadness, jealousy, curiosity, and disappointment in a kid friendly manner. Third, the use of dialogue between characters allows children to develop an understanding of how to engage in healthy communication. Lastly, he uses humor to present complex ideas that are important to children’s development. In sum, Willems’ books allow children the chance to laugh while they learn. Below are eight great Elephant and Piggie books!

Let’s Go for a Drive! is a must read! The book starts off with Gerald having an idea of going on a drive with his friend Piggie. They gather various items to prepare for the trip, but at the end of the story, they realize something important is missing. Without this missing thing, they cannot go on a drive. Instead of focusing on what they cannot do, they decide to use their imagination. Making the decision to use their imagination opens a great opportunity to have loads of fun! This is a great tool for parents and teachers to teach children how to use their imaginations to make the best out of situations.

Watch Me Throw the Ball! is a great book about having fun. Gerald explains to Piggie the rules of throwing a ball, but all she wants to do is throw the ball. When she throws the ball, it does not go very far, but she does not care because she had fun doing it. This book is a great tool for parents and kids to understand the importance of unstructured play.

Can I Play Too? is a great book about inclusive play. Piggie and Gerald are throwing a ball, then their friend snake comes along. They quickly realize that he cannot throw the ball because he does not have arms. Gerald and Piggie must find a way to include snake in their game. In the end, they create a way for all of them to have fun. This is a great book to start the conversation with kids about how they can create inclusive games where all kids can play.

My New Friend Is So Much Fun! is a great book about friendship. Piggie is playing with a new friend, but her best friend Gerald begins to gets jealous. This jealousy leads him to fear losing their friendship. This book is a great tool for parents and teachers to teach kids that friendship is not a zero-sum experience. This is a #MustRead

Today I Will Fly! is a great book that encourages unconventional thinking. When Piggie takes on a mission to fly, her friend Gerald tells her it is an impossible task. Every attempt she tries to fly, Gerald is there to tell her she did not do it, but she does not stop trying. This is an amazing book that can teach children about the power of an entrepreneurial thinking and acting. Instead of focusing on the problem, she focuses on the opportunity and figures out how to fly! This is a #MustRead!

I Am Invited to a Party! is a fun book to read. The author takes readers on a hilarious journey through the grand imagination of Piggie and Gerald. Their imagination has them putting on many outfits and accessories. This book is a great tool to teach children how to develop a robust imagination!

I Love My New Toy! is a book about friendship. Willems uses a toy to discuss the important of friendship. When Piggie gets a new toy, she shares it with Gerald and it breaks. The story takes the reader on the emotional ups and downs of a precious toy being broken. The great thing about this book is that the characters have a redemptive moment and learn that their friendship is more important than a toy. This is a great teaching tool!

We Are in a Book! is another fun book to read to children. The author uses his imagination to take the reader on a playful journey with two characters who realize their conversation is being read by a reader. Reading this book to my sons offers moments to connect through the power of laughter. I use this book as a tool to reignite their focus during reading time or to end reading time on a high note.

a photo of Dr. Nosakhere Griffin-EL.

Dr. Nosakhere Griffin-EL is a graduate from Lincoln University of PA where he majored in history with a focus on African and African-American history. He’s also a graduate of University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education with a Ph.D. in Social and Comparative Analysis in Education.

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Griffin-EL worked as a youth leadership trainer for Pittsburgh Public Schools and lecturer at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business in Cape Town, South Africa.

Dr. Griffin-EL has traveled to 10 African countries where he has conducted research, taught classes, and led in learning journeys. He is the founder of The Young Dreamers’ Book Club, which organizes story time events, creates educational content, and supports parents, community organizations, and educational institutions in selecting books that meet children’s holistic needs.

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