I Broke My Trunk

Hooray for I Broke My Trunk!

I may have mentioned in the past that my family is a wee bit fond of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books… OK, fine, we’re borderline-obsessed.

So, it should be no surprise – with our psychosis so clearly stated for everyone to judge – that we were excited to hear that I Broke My Trunk, a hysterical E&P book from last year, was named as a Geisel Honor Book at the 2012 ALA Youth Media Awards. (The Elephant & Piggie series previously won the 2009 Geisel Award for Are You Ready to Play Outside?)

And Mo Willems, being the mad genius that he is, decided to make this video to thank the Geisel Award committee. Enjoy.


Easter Eggs in Children's Books

This is NOT the kind of egg I'm talking about...

Parents who are really into children’s books always talk about loving books that speak to them on a variety of different levels. Often times, they’re talking about the book’s sense of humor – when the writing is smart enough that it appeals to kids on one level, while delivering a barrage of references and in-jokes that only adults can appreciate. (I call that “The Muppet Show Effect.”) As a vaguely obsessive-compulsive geek, I definitely understand the giddy thrill of discovering hidden meanings on other levels, which is probably why I’ve lately become pre-occupied with finding hidden easter eggs in the artwork in children’s books.

If you’ve never heard the term “easter egg” applied to anything beyond the realm of Cadbury Cream Eggs before, it’s a nifty bit of slang that Wikipedia defines as “an intentional hidden message, in-joke, or feature in a work such as a computer program, web page, video game, movie, book, or crossword.” So, if you move the cursor around your DVD menu until you find a hidden deleted scene that isn’t listed on the main menu, that’s an easter egg. If you find a “secret” level on your favorite video game, that’s an easter egg. If you go to Disney World and look for “Hidden Mickeys,” those are easter eggs. Hitchcock popping up for a cameo – that’s an easter egg. Back before iTunes, if you found a hidden song on a record album, again, that’s an easter egg too.

Pigs Make Me Sneeze!

But The Pigeon AND Knuffle Bunny showing up in an Elephant & Piggie book? THAT is a textbook kids' book easter egg. (From "Pigs Make Me Sneeze!")

(One of my favorite books of last year, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, was an extremely fun sci-fi take on the world of pop culture easter egg hunting. Cline gave easter egg hunters the nickname “gunters” and, when my daughter is older, I think I’m definitely going to add Ready Player One to her “Books She Will Read in the Future” shelf, if only so she can better understand her father’s more obvious gunter tendencies.)

You can find easter eggs in children’s books too. Granted, you’re not going to be able to press a button and reveal a hidden deleted scene from Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (yet), but, in many of your kids’ favorite picture books, you will be able to find a nice selection of sly little visual in-jokes, references, oddities, and allusions that both kids and adults will get a kick out of.

Since I’ve been obsessing about easter eggs in kids’ books for a while now, I’ve decided to do something about it. First, I’m going to give you a few examples of some children’s books easter eggs below. Some are cute, some are funny, some are pretty innocuous, some are a little odd.

Second, I decided to start a new, open-to-the-public Flickr group called Easter Eggs and Hidden Jokes in Children’s Books. I’m starting small and only posting a few examples right now, but I plan to add more and more as 2012 goes on. I’d like to invite anyone else who has a favorite example of a kids’ book easter egg to either a). email me and let me know about it or b). UPLOAD it to the Flickr group yourself. I’d love to be able to start a cool little, crowd-sourced Flickr database of kids’ book easter eggs that fellow gunters like me can enjoy.

You can find the group here. If people out there want to join the cause and start contributing their own suggestions, I think that would be amazingly cool. [read the rest of the post…]


The 16th Elephant and Piggie book by Mo Willems, Happy Pig Day!, is being released today and, in honor of its publication, I spent last night composing this long-winded ode to the Elephant and Piggie series, a collection of easy reader titles that have had a big impact on our household. I’ve wanted to write about Elephant and Piggie for a while now, but it’s hard to know where to begin. Because, at this point, the way I feel about Mo Willems as a children’s book creator is the same way I feel about the Coen Brothers as film directors. It’s not a question of which of their works are good and which are bad. It’s pretty much just a question of measuring excellence.

There Is a Bird on Your Head

There Is a Bird on Your Head

Quick semi-related diversion: In my opinion, the Coen Brothers have never made a bad movie – yes, Ladykillers wasn’t Raising Arizona, but it was way better than most average film comedies (for Hanks’ lead performance alone), and Intolerable Cruelty is an unheralded gem – so, when discussing their films, I mostly just find myself ranking favorites. The same thing happens when I talk about Mo Willems. I simply have yet to meet a Willems title that my family hasn’t enjoyed. So, when looking at his whole body of work, I’ll admit, it turns into a semi-pointless exercise of pure fanboy-esque categorization, with me ranking his titles from “the very best” to the “normal best.” (Ooh, aren’t I a harsh headmaster? Grading his books from “A+” all the way to “A-“.)

That being said, although I love the Pigeon (like many others, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus was our first Willems title), the large bulk of my Mo-love is reserved for the Elephant and Piggie books, a remarkable series for beginning readers. The E&P series, which began in 2007 with There Is a Bird on Your Head!, falls under the category of “easy readers”, a term that generally describes books designed for children who are just starting to read on their own. Easy readers are equal parts illustrations and large, easy-to-read text, and their vocabulary is normally limited to words that appeal to kindergarten to second-grade reading levels.

The Elephant and Piggie books boil down the easy reader to its essential components. The lead characters, Gerald the elephant and Piggie the pig, stand in front of a plain white backdrop, acting out their stories with just their body language and bare minimum of props. The earnest duo – like a more affectionate animal version of Laurel and Hardy – communicate through sound effects and large-text word balloons that make it easy for kids to pick out key words and follow the action. The dialogue-driven E&P books are, actually, a lot like wonderful, condensed one-act plays for kids. There are series of engaging verbal volleys between Elephant and Piggie in each volume, replete with knowing humor, repetition, and facial expressions that really help the young readers understand the inflection and emphasis of the words. [read the rest of the post…]