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Don’t let the Pigeon drive the bus!

by Mo Willems
2003 / 40 pages

Pigeon desperately wants to drive the bus. But the bus driver, who has to leave for a little while, tells readers before he goes, “Remember, don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!”

Pigeon isn’t going to make it that easy though – for the rest of the book he asks, begs, pleads, whines, and sulks about wanting to drive the bus. The drawings are pretty simple cartoons, but the artist lets us see all Pigeon’s emotions in his body language. Pigeon uses every excuse you’ve ever heard a child use:

“I never get to do anything!”
“What’s the big deal?”
“I’ll be your best friend!”
“No fair!”
“I bet your mom would let me.”

That, of course, is the point of the book, that no matter how inventive a child’s questioning – his whining – might become, no is still going to be no.

That’s an important lesson for any child to learn, and this is a fun way for them to learn it. Parents will enjoy reading the book out loud, mimicking Pigeon’s angst and frustration, and kids will enjoy just how silly Pigeon acts. And it will only take a little prodding from mom or dad to have junior realize that sometimes he acts silly too, just like Pigeon.

I’d recommend getting the hardcover version of this book because I think your children will ask you to read it again and again. And that’s not too bad, because it is a fast read – there are only about 175 words in the whole story, which means this review is actually a bit longer than the book!

There are also 10 sequels, and with that abundance comes a warning. While Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie series can be enjoyed with or without mom and dad’s involvement, there is a real sense in which these Pigeon books should be rated PG for Parental Guidance. A somewhat bratty bird in a very limited dose is one thing, but with repeated readings, and with 8 books in total, parents will need to make sure their kids understand we are actually laughing at Pigeon’s ridiculous behavior, and shouldn’t be looking to copy it.

  • Don’t let the Pigeon drive the bus (20003) – The Caldecott winner that started it all!
  • The Pigeon finds a hot dog! (2004) – The Pigeon finds a hotdog but also meets a Duckling who has never had a hotdog. What’s a self-absorbed, but not utterly selfish Pigeon to do?
  • Don’t let the Pigeon stay up late! (2006) – Parents will love this for how it gives them a term for their kids can’t-we-stay-up-5-more-minutes? pleas. “That’s enough guys,” I’ll tell them, “You’re being pigeons and it is time to stop.”
  • The Pigeon wants a puppy! (2008) – This could be inspiration for parents who wonder if their kids really want a pet and the responsibility that comes with it. Pigeon gets a brief test drive with a puppy and changes his mind (now he wants a walrus).
  • The Duckling gets a cookie!? (2012) – The Duckling reappears, this time to ask us, the readers, to give him a cookie. Pigeon wonders why Duckling gets one, and doesn’t. The main message kids will get is that Pigeon has never asked… at least, not politely.
  • The Pigeon needs a bath! (2014) – Pigeon hates bathes but once he runs out of excuses he gets to have some wonderful wet fun.
  • The Pigeon has to go to school! (2019) – Pigeon shares his worries – in his usual bombastic way – about going to school for the first time. Reading this with a child who has their own concerns could be a great conversation starter.
  • The Pigeon will ride the roller coaster! (2022) – Pigeon imagines the roller coaster will be exciting… but it only sort of is. This one struck me as only okay, and I’d ranked it 8th out of 8.

There’s also a book of Pigeon quotes that adults fans may enjoy. I’d borrow Be the Bus (2023) from a library rather than buy it, but there are a few laughs, like “You only get one chance to make a twenty-third impression.”

Take it or leave it

Willems also has a couple of “smidgen of Pigeon” board books, but I don’t really get the target audience. You’d already have to be familiar with Pigeon to appreciate these, but if a kid is old enough to appreciate the picture books above, are they really going to want to read a board book?

  • The Pigeon loves things that go! (2005) – Pigeon sees a bus and a train that go. Up next is a hot dog. Do hot dogs go? Yes, says Duckling, they go right into his tummy!
  • The Pigeon has feelings too (2005) – Pigeon doesn’t want to smile. Getting asked to makes him angry and sad, because everyone tells him what to do. But when the Bus Driver says it’s okay not to smile, that makes Pigeon happy, happy, happy.

Don’t bother

While there’s lots to love with this series, parents can give a miss to the 2023 Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleighwhich pretends that Christmas is all about Santa and, just to make it even easier to bypass, that Easter is about eggs and bunnies.

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Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books, Graphic novels

Mo Willems' "Elephant & Piggie"

From about three years old and up, my daughters and I have all loved Elephant and Piggie and their whole 25 book series. When I'd bring a new one home from the library often times my littlest would squeal with delight – before having kids I always thought that was just an expression but now I know better. They are great books for preschoolers and also very fun for first graders just learning to read, and even for third and fourth graders to act out. Piggie is the more expressive of the two friends, but Gerald the Elephant can get bouncy and loud too. It's one adventure after another for two very good friends who are thoughtful, fun-loving, curious and most definitely loud (it's no coincidence that nearly every book title is capped off with an exclamation mark!). My daughter loves the stories because the drawings and the characters are just so energized! The plots are simple enough for her to follow, and bring up situations that she understands like dealing with a friend breaking a toy, learning to throw a ball, and cheering up a sad elephant. All of the books are full of silly fun, and most of them teach simple moral lessons without being obvious about it. For example, in Listen to My Trumpet, Piggie's performance is so bad, Elephant doesn't know quite how to tell her. So he praises her for what he can: her trumpet is shiny, and she can play it loud, and she holds it very well. But when Piggie insists on hearing his opinion of her playing, he is honest. Fortunately, it turns out that Piggie wasn't trying to play music, but was instead trying to sound like an elephant, so it all works out in the end. What a great lesson in, and example of, honesty and tactfulness! Another feature I appreciate is that the stories are generally limited to two characters. That makes it a bit simpler to handle giving them different voices. I can go with a high voice for the girl Piggie, and low for Elephant, and that's pretty much the limit of my vocal ability - if a third character shows up they are stuck with my normal voice. And I love that there are 25 of these. When I would eventually get tired of one book (long before my daughters) I could bring home another one from the library, to her squealing delight! They are recommended for 3-9, but nostalgia has even our older kids looking at them now and again. The following are short reviews of each title, by publication date (2007 to when he stopped in 2016). in alphabetical order. These come in durable hardcovers, with each story at 50+ pages, and the whole series has now been collected in 5 "biggie" books for a pretty thrifty price. Today I Will Fly! You may think pigs can't fly, but when Elephant tells Piggie that, it doesn't discourage her in the least. And, with a little help from a friend, she does get off the ground! My Friend is Sad When Elephant is sad Piggie decides to cheer him up by dressing up as a cowboy, then a clown and finally a robot. But he still doesn't cheer up. Why not? Because he is sad that Piggie wasn't there to see them too! One caution: parents may want to note that while friends are a blessing, they are not everything. I Am Invited to a Party! When Piggie is invited to a party, she turns to Elephant to figure out what to wear because "he knows parties!" Good clean silly fun! There Is a Bird On Your Head! Piggie gives the moment-by-moment commentary as first one bird, and then two, land on Elephant's head, build a nest, and have eggs that soon hatch. Complete nonsense, and lots of fun. I Love My New Toy! Piggie has a new toy she really wants to show Elephant. But when she shows it to him, he accidentally breaks it. Piggie does not deal with this very well, even though Elephant is very sorry. But when it turns out the toy isn't really broken after all, Elephant shows Piggie where her priorities should have been: "Friends are more fun than toys." I Will Surprise My Friend! After Piggie and Elephant see two squirrels having fun jumping out and surprising each other they decide to try it too. They agree to meet at a the big rock. But when they both arrive on opposite sides of the rock, and thus don't see the other, each begins to wonder what happened to the other. The humor here comes in the contrast: Gerald wonders if Piggie might have fallen off a cliff, or been abducted by a giant bird, or whether she might be fighting a scary, scary monster right now while Piggie wonders if Gerald might have gone for lunch. Funny, but Gerald's wondering made this a bit borderline for my three-year-old, making this the only book in the series I wouldn't read her right before bedtime. Are You Ready to Play Outside? Piggie want to play outside. She really wants to play outside. But then it starts to rain. What's a pig to do? Maybe a change of attitude, and a good friend, can help her have fun no matter what the weather. Watch Me Throw the Ball! Elephant is very good at throwing a ball. Piggie... not so much. But she sure has fun trying! A caution I might add for this one is on boasting. All of it is done in fun, but there sure is a lot of it here! Parents will want to point out that boasting in our strength, if we actually mean it, is disgraceful (Prov. 11.:2). Elephants Cannot Dance! Elephants cannot dance – it even says so in a book! But as Piggie reminds her friend, that doesn't mean you can't try! And while Elephant is not very good at doing most dances, he can do a very good rendition of "the Elephant dance." This is a title that, with some parental guidance, can be used to teach children that while they will not be good at everything, they can still try to improve, and they have their own unique talents and abilities. Pigs Make Me Sneeze! Is Elephant allergic to Piggie? Could his best friend be making him sneeze? Or might there be another reason for why Elephant is sneezing all the time? More silly fun! I Am Going! Piggie is going, and Elephant is having a hard time dealing with it. I was hoping this one could be used to teach my daughter how to deal with the "It's time to go home now" situation, this title would just exasperate the drama. Elephant just cannot stand being apart from Piggie, and, it seems, he never has to be. Though I love the series, this is one isn't all that good. Can I Play Too? Elephant and Piggie are going to play catch, but then Snake asks if he can play too. But Snake does not have arms, so how can he play catch? After a few misadventures Piggie, Elephant and Snake figure out how to play the game so then can include everyone. With a little commentary from mom or dad, this is could be a great way to teach kids about thinking of others, and include others in what they do. We Are in a Book! Piggie and Elephant discover that they are in a book. They then have great fun when they realize they can get the reader to say whatever they want (and they really want the reader to say "Banana"). But when Elephant discovers that, like all books, this one is going to end, he and Piggie figure out a way for the fun to continue - they ask the reader to read the book again! This is an inventive book, but a tad taxing if daddy wanted to read just one more book. I Broke My Trunk! This is a laugh-out-loud story for both parent and child. How did Elephant break his trunk? Did balancing a hippo and rhinoceroses on it have anything to do with it? Nope. Or at least, not directly. This is my favorite in the whole series. Should I Share My Ice Cream? Elephant wants to be a generous soul. But share ice cream? It's so yummy! Elephant spends so much time wrestling back and forth that by the time he finally decides to share, his ice cream has melted! But don't worry – Piggie sees that her friend is sad, so, to cheer him up, she offers to share her ice cream. Happy Pig Day! It's "Oinky Oink Oink!" (that's pig for "Happy Pig Day!") and Elephant feels left out – he doesn't have a snout, or hooves, and he is not pink! But then Piggie explains that "Happy Pig Day!" isn't just for pigs; it is for anyone show loves pigs! So that certainly includes Elephant! Listen to My Trumpet! When Elephant hears Piggie playing her new trumpet he has to figure out a nice way to say she is very, very, very, very, very bad! He does a good job, which makes this a fun and instructive book. Let's Go for a Drive! Elephant wants to go for a drive. And if you are going to go for a drive you need lots of stuff, like maps, sunglasses, umbrellas and luggage to carry it all. Fortunately his friend Piggie has everything they need. Or does he? Lots of fun repetition in this one that your child will catch on to quickly and be able to shout out along with you. A Big Guy Took My Ball! Elephant is incensed at the injustice of it all when Piggie comes to him for help, because "a big guy took my ball!" But then he finds out the big guy is really big – he's a blue whale! Fortunately he's a gentle giant, just looking for a friend. I'm a Frog! When Piggie says he's a frog, a surprised Elephant believes him... only to find out that Piggie is just pretending. When this was written in 2013, there was no transgender angle, but now it could be used to highlight how, just as Piggie was never actually a frog, other sorts of pretending also don't make it so. My New Friend Is So Fun! When Piggie makes a new friend, Elephant gets a more than a little insecure. But Elephant eventually realizes he can make new friends himself and still be best friends with Piggie. Waiting Is Not Easy! Piggie has a surprise for Elephant... but he has to wait for it. A looooooooong time. And Elephant is not so good at waiting. Fortunately, the surprise really is worth the wait. I Will Take a Nap! In one of the more surreal episodes, Elephant takes a nap... and dreams about taking a nap. I Really Like Slop! Piggie's slop does not look good. But he likes it a lot, and want Gerald to give it a try. Gerald finds the flys a little off-putting, but after some persistent encouragement from Piggie he gives it a tiny try. And lives to tell the tale. Oh, the things we do for our friends! The Thank You Book In their last book, Piggie wants to be sure to thank everyone who's been involved in the series. But he almost forgets one very big thank-you. Thankfully Elephant is there to help....