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The Pigeon Needs a Bath!

I loved the first ‘pigeon’ book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, and enjoyed the second, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late, but this, if lacking in the same punch of originality you got with the first, possibly tops the lot.

The premise is the same: the bus driver/human figure asks the reader to help with the errant pigeon, and the book consists of the pigeon’s half of the conversation.  The reader (or listener, if articulate enough) has to provide the other half of the dialogue.  For a start, as I think I said on my previous review, this is a fantastic concept for a children’s book.  It’s interactive in the best sense of the word and encourages speech, develops persuasive language skills, requires tactical thinking, and on top of that adds an element of citizenship teaching – don’t be as obstructive as the pigeon is!  In this particular case the pigeon is filthy and needs a bath and comes up with the usual plethora of excuses as to why he doesn’t need one. “Clean, dirty – they’re just words, right?”

There are great moments during this excuse phase, one of which is the way that at every turn he realises his arguments are flawed.  The flies he claims are “purely coincidental” depart with an indignant instruction to “take a bath dude” (do it in a voice like you’ve swallowed helium and it’s even funnier). He even turns on the reader to deflect the issue and asks “When did you last have a bath?” only to coo despondently “Oh.  That was pretty recently.”  The quality of the language and the use of common phrases is even better than usual in this one and it is a real pleasure to read.

However the climax of this book is the inspired section when, having finally agreed to the bath, the pigeon tries to make it to his liking.  It’s too hot.  Too cold.  Too lukewarm.  Too few toys.  Too many toys.  Too hot. Read punctuated with the ‘pssst’ of the bath tap this reduces even my six-year-old to hysterical giggles.

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If I have a criticism, it’s that the replies the pigeon requires are more complicated than the original.  In the Bus version, usually only ‘No’ is required to shut the pigeon up, and this can be understood and said by children of a very young age.  In this you actually need to understand what the pigeon is implying and ‘no’ is not an adequate or appropriate response.  It means that to get most out of the book the adult reader needs to do more on both sides of the conversation and model possible answers to the child.  It’s not a bad thing, but it is an area in which this book falls down slightly compared to previous incarnations.

We’ve only had this a week and we’ve had to read it at least once every day, which is no hardship whatsoever.  It’s a great one to share, a great one to encourage children to speak and argue with the pigeon, and genuinely very, very funny.  Just go and buy it.  Go on.

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Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion

This is an oddly placed review, on the grounds that this is the third book in a trilogy of Knuffle Bunny stories, but we happened to have it on loan from the library so here you are.

The previous two books, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity deal with the same basic plotline as this third installment: Trixie, now looking four or five instead of the toddler in the first book, goes on a trip and loses Knuffle Bunny.  In this case the family is heading off to Holland (which given the book is American, is a REALLY long journey) to visit Oma and Opa.

On the following page, Knuffle Bunny disappears somewhere between the left and right hand page, which the sharp-eyed reader may spot before, some while later, Trixie realises he has gone.

The book handles the loss of a much-loved toy in a straightforward but accurate way.  Trixie sees and does all sorts of exciting things, but none of them feel exciting without Knuffle Bunny.  Her grandparents try to replace him with a new toy, but this clearly isn’t the same.  Trixie wonders how she will sleep another night in a strange bed in a strange country without her comforter.  She is understandably distraught, despite the adults trying to encourage her by telling her how big she is getting.

So far, so straightforward.  The denouement is surely obvious: Knuffle Bunny will turn up in some miraculous fashion before the end of the book and they will all live happily ever after.  However, Mo Willems is cleverer and more original than that.  Trixie has a dream, about all the places Knuffle Bunny might go, and all the children he might help on his travels.  And she feels a bit better.  And she enjoys the rest of her holiday.

On the plane, the miraculous reunion does take place.  Knuffle Bunny is in the pocket of the very seat she is sitting in (this does seem implausible but I have always wondered how often they clear out those seatback pockets).  What happens next though is less predictable; in fact you have to wonder whether the writers of Toy Story 3 had read this book before making their film.

Mo Willems was praised for his inventive illustrations for the series and they are delightful.  Trixie, Knuffle Bunny and all the characters are drawn in a simple cartoon style, but the backgrounds are all black and white photographs, giving a surprising sense of realism.

The writing is very simple but very direct, and the art of the storyteller makes this a moving fable about growing up, and moving on.  It’s reflected in the poignant message at the end of the book from Willems to his own Trixie, about his hopes for her future life.

He proved with the Pigeon books that he is an inventive writer with an eye for the way that small children think, and here Mo Willems shows all that plus a sense of pathos.  He understands the way that children and adults view their progression through the milestones of childhood and any little one who reads this will empathise with Trixie – and potentially learn about selflessness and sacrifice as well.

A wonderful piece of storytelling and one to savour.

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Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

This is a highly original and extremely funny book by Mo Willems (see previous review of Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct).

The book is written in speech bubbles – a bus driver appears and asks the reader to mind the bus whilst he has to leave for a little while.  He makes one key stipulation: “Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!”.  Almost immediately the pigeon appears, and sets out to convince you that he should, in fact, be allowed to drive the bus.  He tries every tactic he can think of – “I’ll be your best friend?” – until finally exploding in a spectacular avian tantrum: “LET ME DRIVE THE BUUUSSSS!”

The genius of this book lies in the interaction.  It is the child being read to who has to say ‘No, Pigeon, you can’t drive the bus!’, something that most vocal toddlers will love doing – even if they are just at the stage where they can shout ‘NO!’  And what is particularly clever is that it reflects the toddler’s typical behaviour to him or herself in a quietly negative light.  The child plays parent to the rebellious, manipulative pigeon, and cannot help but learn from him how not to behave.  Adults will also enjoy the well-worn phrases of childhood: “I never get to do ANYthing!”

This is both fun and funny, and the sulky pigeon is already a hugely popular character with those in the know.  A wonderful book for sharing and shouting about. And at.

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Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct

Mo Willems began his career writing and animating for Sesame Street.  Since publishing his first book (no doubt to be reviewed at a later date!) in 2003, he has gone from strength to strength.  According to his blog, he has so far received “3 Caldecott Honors, 2 Geisel Medals, a Geisel Honor, 2 Carnegie Medals, 6 Emmys, and multiple bubble gum cards.”  You can read about Mo at http://mowillemsdoodles.blogspot.com/

When you start a book with the concept of a handbag-carrying dinosaur in a hat named Edwina who bakes chocolate chip cookies and helps little old ladies to cross the road, you are already on to a Good Thing.  Everybody in the neighbourhood loves Edwina, everyone except Reginal von Hoobie Doobie.  Reginald, who to be fair is probably still smarting from the pain of coping with that name, is one of those pedantic intellectual types who can’t see the wood for the trees.  As far as he is concerned, dinosaurs are extinct and Edwina has no right to be there, particularly when she inadvertantly interrupts his report on ‘Things that are extinct: specifically, dinosaurs’, with an impromptu milk and cookies session.  (It is slightly galling that the teacher not only fails to reprimand the children for interrupting Reginald during his report but is actually a ring-leader in the classroom exodus that follows, but we’ll let that slide.)  So Reginald decides to make people aware that Edwina is a scientific impossibility, under the apprehension that if everyone knows she is extinct, she will suffer some kind of existential crisis and “Poof! Edwina will disappear.”  His frustrated efforts to get people to take notice of him are pretty funny – especially the flyers he hands out, which are by the facing page turned into hats by the oblivious locals.

In the end, it is Edwina who listens.  And, finally allowed to express himself to someone who is not running out of the room to eat cookies, Reginald relents.

This is a snappily written story with plenty of off-the-wall humour, great illustrations and a fabulous vocabulary.  “He was persuasive, he was expressive, he was loud… He was very convincing.”  Reginald is redeemed by his willingness to accept Edwina’s existence, and we realise that even the very intelligent need someone to listen to them sometimes.