Sunday, June 10, 2012

Elephant and Piggie Books

I know, it seems like blasphemy for a writer of a children’s books blog to type those words, but it is true.  That is not to say that I do not love Dr. Seuss.  I adore him!

But right now, I am the mom of a five year old learning to read.  Having taught MANY children to read over the years, I declare EMPHATICALLY that the  

“Elephant and Piggie” book series by Mo Willems

are the BEST books available for engaging the newest readers.  

I am writing this post in hopes of introducing a few of you to this amazing series.  If you are not familiar with the Elephant and Piggie books, head straight to your library and check out all they have. You won't be disappointed.   I am always surprised by the number of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive The Bus fans who don't know about these. 

The Elephant and Piggie books are early readers by Mo Willems that feature two unlikely best friends who learn and grow together.  There are currently 17 books in this series.

So, why do I think they are better than anything else out there, including the great early reader contributions by Dr. Seuss?

1- The Elephant and Piggie books are short. -Pigs Make Me Sneeze has 188 words on 57 pages.  The Cat in the Hat has 1629 words on 61 pages.  For a new reader and his enthusiastic parents, the books can be completed in a time frame that manages to maintain the interest of both the young reader and the doting listeners (before mom and dad become the “doZing” listeners).  They are the PERFECT length! 

2- Willems has perfected the use of the speech bubble.  My son loves speech bubbles!  They help him recognize which character is speaking.  They help him know if the character is speaking LOUDLY, because the word bubbles are LARGER.  He knows if they are speaking softly, because the word bubbles are smaller.  This helps him read with expression, THE VERY FIRST TIME THROUGH!  He doesn’t stumble through in a monotone voice, like he does with some other early readers.  He knows when to use a grumpy voice, give a happy cheer, or whisper quietly.  Just from the speech bubbles and font size. I never really understood the power of the speech bubble in early literacy, until I was introduced to Mo Willems.  

2 ½-Did I mention the use of speech bubbles?  Speech bubbles lend themselves beautifully to shared reading, an important part of reading instruction.  My son and I each choose a character in the book and read all of his or her lines throughout the entire book, similar to reading a play.  In fact, we have often used the Elephant and Piggie  books as scripts for puppet shows or plays.  (Any other early literacy specialists out there know that RETELL is also an important part of reading instruction).  


3- The books use real words.  This makes it easier to use context clues and phonetics to figure out unfamiliar words.  ‘Jertain’ and ‘Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz’ are certainly fun and silly to say, but context clues are useless to figure them out and can frustrate the newest readers.

4-Speaking of context clues...the PICTURES are so clear and simple, so concrete. Yet somehow they convey the meaning of the story so perfectly, that it is easy for a child stuck on a word to look at the pictures and determine what the word should be or the emotion with which the words should be expressed.  How do you do that, Mo?  How do you get one simple line across a pig’s eye lid to say so much? 

5-The Elephant  and Piggie books are quite simply put.... hilarious!  Laugh out loud funny.  Tears in your eye funny.  Appropriately funny.   My children and the adults in our family giggle every time we read the “Piggie and Elephant” books, whether it is the first time or the 37th.  (There is no need to pander to bathroom humor or jokes above the kids’ heads).  We all think the books are truly funny.  

6-According to the official Mo Willems website, each book is reviewed by early childhood reading specialists before publication!  (Something I didn’t know before working on this article).  I feel even better as a parent knowing that not only does my gut tell me this is good, quality, children’s literature, the “experts” agree as well.  

7-Most Elephant and Piggie books teach valuable lessons, without being too preachy.  Friends are better than toys. (I Love My New Toy).  Being outside is fun in all kinds of weather  (Are You Ready to Play Outside?).  Asking politely can make things better. (There’s A Bird On My Head).  There isn’t always just one right way to do something. (Elephants Can’t Dance).    Lots of Dr. Seuss books do teach valuable lessons, too.  But it is hard to find in his early readers.  I am not quite deep enough to find the moral of the ABC Book, the Foot Book, or Hop on Pop.   

8-Most importantly, I love the Piggie and Elephant Books because they give my son CONFIDENCE as a reader.  He can pick one up and know that he can read it with fluency and expression.  He knows he will laugh.  He knows he will enjoy himself.  And what can any parent want more for their son, then for him to LOVE to read.  

***I want to be clear that I do honor Dr. Seuss as a Founding Father of all that is good in children’s literature.  There would be no Mo Willems without Dr. Seuss and his legacy.  I have laughed at his silly absurdities with my kindergarteners and my own three children.  I have read his inspired lessons about Sneetches with “stars upon thars” with my fourth grade students, who were struggling to fit in or to include everyone.  I have even been inspired myself as a young adult, during a particularly difficult time in my life, by one of his lesser known books I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Sollew.

But for new readers, I think Mo Willems has Dr. Seuss beat.  Once my son is ready, he will be able  to read Dr. Seuss to himself.    But for now, I will read Dr. Seuss to him and HE will read  Mr. Willems’  Elephant and Piggie books to me.   He reaches for them each day...and we never tire of them.  Thank you for your wonderful books, Mo Willems.  Thanks for helping my son LOVE to read, and for helping the job of teaching him to read be such an enjoyable experience.   

***Mo Willems also has another early reader series, the Cat the Cat books.  We love those as well for most of the same reasons we love Elephant and Piggie!  And of course we love his famous Pigeon and his Knuffle Bunny and Leonoardo and Amanda and.......many more friends.  

On June 18th, 2012, Mommy and Me Book Club and over 20 other bloggers will be sharing our favorite Mo Willems books and activities to go along with them during the Summer Virtual Book Club.  We will even have a place for you to link up your favorites!  I hope you will join in the fun.


Trisha @ Inspiration Laboratories

You are so right about the Elephant and Piggie books (and all of the other books by Mo Willems)!

Melissa Taylor

He's a genius - I like him better than Dr. Seuss, too.


I am going to get some of these books. I had never even heard of them before. But they sound neat!

Dusty (To the Moon and Back)

I saw a link to this post on Pinterest and clicked through. We LOVE Piggie and Gerald here! Even my 6 year old who reads on a 3rd grade level still cracks up at these books! I wrote about Mo Willemson my blog quite awhile back because we adore his storytelling style. We're pretty fond of "Happy Pig Day" and "We are in a Book!"


My grandson LOVES these books. He love trying to find the pigeon in each one too! He gets the humor, and love the speech bubbles too! They are really great books, I guess I didn't realize that there are 17 though. I need to get a list and make sure we have read them all. This could be a good start to our Summer Reading program too. Thanks for sharing. Hmmm, I better get busy, I can't wait to see the activities for them.


I love this series and all of Mo's books! I'm a librarian at an elementary school and the kids are wild about them. Thanks for pointing out all the early reader benefits. I think they are hilarious, too!


Great points! I was noticing some of those same things with my 6 year old son who is reading now!


I agree, especially with #3. Even I have a hard time pronouncing some of the words in books by Dr Seuss.
Have you read "Oh no, George!" "Say Hello to Zorro!" or "Zorro Gets an Outfit?" Those are also great books.

Look forward to reading more of your blog.

Cheerios and Lattes

SO fun! I love it! Great ideas! I’d love to invite you to share on Saturday Show & Tell on Cheerios and Lattes! I know my readers will love your ideas as well!
Happy Weekend! :)

~The Bargain Babe from *Zucchini Summer Blog*

Saw this on pinterest and about to become your newest blog follower.

I love Seuss's Sneetches book and the Horton Hears a Who movie. But some of those other books are so insanely long. When I taught preschool it never held their attention.

Good point about the nonsense words too. I have seen the elephant and piggy books but never looked at them really closely. I will have to pick some up soon!


I have to agree with you on all counts regarding the Elephant and Piggie books. I loved using them with my kinder and 1st grade classes as a librarian, and have had tons of fun reading them with my 3 year old twins. In the library I used them as an introduction to Reader's Theatre with the early readers. The color coding of the speech bubbles helped them know when it was their turn to repeat after me. They loved it and learned how to use inflection in their speech and reading. I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with Mo Willems several years ago, which is when I learned of the wonderful series. I'm not as fond of the Cat the Cat series (just my personal taste, but my kids like them), but for the most part you can't go wrong with Mo!


Thank you so much! I am going to check these out right away. I have always had the same reservations about Dr. Seuss books, so I am excited to find another series to check into.


Thank you! A friend, who I know is a great teacher, pinned this and said she agreed with you completely. My daughter is just finishing kindergarten and already talks about not liking reading. I'm so worried!!! For some reason, I had never really notice Elephant and Piggie books even though we are big Knuffle Bunny and Pigeon fans.

Thank you!!! I look forward to browsing more of your blog. It looks fantastic.

JDaniel4's Mom

I love the use of speech bubbles in these books too. My guy loves the humor Mo Willems' book contain!


I saw this post on Pinterest and had never heard or nor read the Elephant and Piggie books. We got the 4 the library had available at the time and my sons LOVED them. My oldest was able to read the entire books cover to cover. Thank you so much for the posting about these books. What a confidence booster they have been for my oldest.

Megan @ CoffeeCupsandCrayons

I am a huge Dr. Seuss lover, but totally agree with you about Elephant and Piggie! Fantastic series!!! Reason #8 really sums it up perfectly! :)


I had checked out a few Elephant and Piggie books before, and thought they were alright. Then, after reading your blog post, I thought I would give them another try. And, wow, you were exactly right on all your points. This time around, my daughter is actually reading, and the speech bubbles make it really fun for her. Thanks for your well thought out reasoning in this post! (And for making my daughter's read aloud time that much more enjoyable for both of us.)

I've been discovering Mo Willems (other than Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus) through the SVBC and love it. I agree. These books are great, and the lessons are one of my favorite aspects. Can I Play Too? (which we've been reading the last few days and are sharing a snake sock puppet post about tomorrow) is perhaps the best children's book I've ever seen about inclusion. Love your thoughts!

Kristen Bartos

I am a Kindergarten teacher and I read EVERY Elephant and Piggie book that I own MULTIPLE times every year. The kids love them! The are hilarious and really get the kids excited and motivated to read! I even had kids writing their own Elephant and Piggie books by the end of the year! The word bubbles are perfect for this age. Two thumbs up from this teacher! Mo Willems Rocks!

Nora H

I truly agree with u abt it being one of the best books for early readers... Using it to teach my 4 year old how to readit too... And he loves it!!!


Love this post! I completely agree with you and have passed on my love of Elephant and Piggie to many of my Story Time kids!


What a great review. Thanks for reminding me of these books. . . they really are GREAT.

✰ Stacy

Simpson Superstars


I wasn't familiar with Elephant and Piggie books until I found your post on pinterest last year. I'm so glad I came to your post. My daughter was in first grade at the time. She wasn't really enjoying reading (never had much interest in books). But after checking out the Elephant and Piggie books I felt like it all started to change. She became a more confident reader and sincerely enjoyed the books (both reading and listening). We have checked out ALL of them from our library multiple times and are gradually adding them to our home library (I have more little ones :). THANK YOU! Your post and insight made a big difference in our lives.

Deirdre Garcia

I won a Donor's Choose grant for some new Mo Willems books, and HOLY MOLY, has my kindergarten class taken off because of Elephant and Piggie! I agree with all of your points, and it was so incredible to see even my struggling readers pick up a book that is actually INTERESTING to them, and read it by themselves. We've also used his books as writer's workshop mentor texts (your reason #2- my kids writing looks awesome with these features as well).

Also, anyone in the Chicagoland area, the Emerald City Theater (a favorite of mine) will be doing an Elephant and Piggie musical next year!

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