Books considered classics survive all the years and are still found in many school libraries. To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind for high schools.
Middle grades? Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
What about picture books? Blueberries for Sal, Where the Wild Things Are, and my favorite as a kid: Sam and the Firefly.
I am not sure how a book becomes a classic, but I’m willing to predict Elephant and Piggie books, featuring Gerald and Piggie and written by Mo Willems will still be popular in fifty years. Kids LOVE these books, know where to find them in the library, and they are always checked out. Students immediately sit down with their friends Gerald and Piggie and giggle and laugh out loud.
Did you know, though, there are only going to be 25 of these books written? I Really Like Slop was published in October 2015, and the last title, The Thank You Book will be released this May 2016. Even though I know the books will be around a long time, #25 will still feel like the end of an era. Like the last episode of Downton Abbey.
When I read an Elephant and Piggie book to kids, they are rolling on the floor laughing when it’s funny, and they have butterflies when it’s scary or sneaky. The littles are concerned when the characters are having an argument or when Gerald and Piggie feel disappointed or sad. According to Mo Willems, “They’re friends and they damage their friendship in some way, and then they have to find a way to undamage it.” As early readers, many kids find themselves in these friend situations, and it’s validating (and sometimes helpful!) to see how two characters work it out, usually in a silly way!
Mo Willems also says these books are “built to be little plays.” I see this all the time. As kids sit with their books, they immediately take a voice for one character, and a different voice for another. Or they read the book with a friend, “You be Piggie! I’ll be Gerald!” They change their tones depending on the exchange. It might be a funny tone, an angry one, or even a disappointed sigh. Once a reader is more comfortable, they actually add the physical actions and use props! It’s amazing to watch.
A last reason for Elephant and Piggie’s success in the library is simple: kids can, for the most part, read these early readers. Willems keeps them short with about 50 distinct words. Students feel successful when they get to the last page because they’ve read most of the text in a fluent voice, they’ve understood the story, and they can relate to the characters.
While I am looking forward to The Thank You Book, I am certain I will need a box of kleenex as I read it and say goodbye to two of my favorite characters!
What Elephant and Piggie book is your favorite?
Labrecque, Jeff. “‘Elephant and Piggie’ author Mo Willems on his latest best-seller and his new Pigeon app. Entertainment Weekly Books/Shelf Life. 27 October 2011. Retrieved March
Norris, Michele. “ Author Mo Willems on ‘Elephant and Piggie.’” NPR Books. 22 May 2008. Retrieved March 2016.