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Children’s Illustrators #3: Mo Willems

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Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, children are introduced to the basic elements of Mo Willems’ artistic style.  They will complete a simple drawing of a Mo Willems character in Mo Willems’ style.

Lesson Plan:


Identify and describe the artistic style of illustrator Mo Willems.

Suggested Time:

45-60 minutes

Success Criteria:

Students will be able to recognize a Mo Willems picture or book and describe basic elements of his style.  Students will also complete a simple Mo Willems art project using the Elephant & Piggie characters.

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

If you have studied other illustrators, briefly review what the children have learned.  Introduce illustrator Mo Willems by holding up a few books whose covers the children may recognize.

2. Main: 

Today we’ll look at the work of illustrator, Mo Willems.  We’ll do the following things together:

  1. Look at some illustrations.
  2. Read a book together.
  3. Watch a short interview with Mo Willems.
  4. Create a piece of art in the style of Mo Willems.
  5. Show some Mo Willems books and characters. Be sure to include the Pigeon, Elephant & Piggie, and Knufflebunny.  Ask the children to describe Mr. Willems’ style in the Elephant & Piggie  They should come up with elements such as:
  • Limited use of color
  • No background
  • “Minimalist” figures
  • Very little detail

Note:  It is especially powerful to contrast Mr. Willem’s work with the work of David Shannon who is featured in the next lesson.  Mr. Shannon’s work is colorful and detailed, the opposite of Mr. Willem’s style in the Elephant and Piggie series.

  1. Read Let’s Go For A Drive. A great variation is to divide the class into half, and let half read the part of Elephant and half read the part of Piggie.  The kids will read it with great expression and will do a magnificent job!

Check for Understanding:

  • How are Elephant and Piggie alike?
  • How are they different?
  • What makes Mo Willems stories fun to read?
  • Why do you think Mr. Willems does not provide a background in his Elephant & Piggie illustrations? How would the books be different with a background?

If there is time, read a second book from the Elephant & Piggie series.   Personal favorites are I Broke My Trunk, There is a Bird on My Head, or Watch Me Throw the Ball.

  1. Show a short Mo Willems interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXwk670WnKw

Check for understanding with simple questions such as:

  • Which books are Mo Willems’ favorites to make?
  • How does he choose which art supplies to use?
  • What was Mr. Willems’ first Pigeon book?
  1. Give instructions for a short art project using the attached Student Handout.  In this simple exercise, kids only need paper and a pencil.  They can add color, grey or pink, if they want to at the end.  Be sure to have them sign their work.

3. Conclusion:

Encourage the children to read Mr. Willem’s books, look carefully at his illustrations, and try making an illustration of their own in Mr. Willem’s style.  Ask them to try to figure out how Knuffle Bunny books or Pigeon books are the same and different from Elephant & Piggie books.

  1. Official Mo Willems Website: http://www.mowillems.com/
  2. Mo Willems interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXwk670WnKw
  3. Assortment of Mo Willems books.
  4. Art supplies including scissors and colored pencils or crayons.
  5. Student Handout (attached)

I’ve been using Elephant & Piggie for many years, for everything from making connections to the arts, elements of literature for middle school students, and even simple physical forces lessons for upper elementary students.  The books lend themselves to many, many uses.

Hyperion Books for Children has put together a fabulous Elephant & Piggie Party Kit.  However, this is easily adapted for lessons and activities as well as parties.  Having learned a bit from Mo Willems, it may actually be the same thing!  Be sure to check out the Hyperion resources here:


recommended books for this lesson:

A few Elephant & Piggie titles:

  1. Let’s Go For a Drive
  2. I Broke My Trunk
  3. Watch Me Throw the Ball
  4. My New Friend is So Fun
  5. There is a Bird On Your Head
  6. Should I Share My Ice Cream?
  7. We Are In A Book!
  8. Waiting is Not Easy
  9. I Will Surprise My Friend
  10. I’m a Frog!
  11. Elephants Cannot Dance

Books starring the Pigeon:

  1. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
  2. The Pigeon Needs a Bath
  3. Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late
  4. The Pigeon Wants a Puppy
  5. The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog

Knuffle Bunny tales:

  1. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale
  2. Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity
  3. Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion
Key Terms:

Mo Willems, Illustrators, Illustration, Art, Sketch, Elephant & Piggie

Student Handout, Mo Willems

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