February 29, 2012

The Pigeon Has Feelings Too!

The Pigeon Has Feelings Too!
By Mo Willems; illus. by the author
0-4 Preschool Hyperion 10 pp.
0-7868-3650-4 Board $6.99

Children are routinely told to "be happy", to "stop pouting", to "smile more" or, as the Bus Driver in The Pigeon Has Feelings Too! says, to "show everybody your HAPPY face". With his characteristic concision, Mo Willems empowers kids to be true to their actual feelings by having his feisty protagonist model a fantastic refusal that runs the gamut from angry to sad, and which finally ends with the pigeon feeling genuinely "HAAAAAPPPPPPPPYYY!"

As in Willems' other Pigeon books, the illustrations are simple, but not simplistic. His Pigeon packs an emotional punch, drooping with sadness and vibrating with anger, as he communicates all of the complicated, pent up emotions young children often feel but cannot express. The Pigeon occupies solid color backgrounds that support the figures and their speech bubbles, keeping the reader's eyes squarely on what's important - the Pigeon and his feelings. Having effectively communicated the fact that he does not want to show everybody his happy face, the bus driver (the iconic adult stand-in) apologizes to the Pigeon and lets him off the hook, whereupon the Pigeon is so thrilled that he does show everybody his happy face, but only because he is genuinely happy.

In typical Willems style, the Pigeon realizes too late that the joke is on him, but it is a good natured joke, one that young readers will appreciate as much as their parents. Straightforward enough for very young readers to tackle on their own, but fun enough for repeated readings-aloud, the text and story of The Pigeon Has Feelings Too! are most eloquently supported by the Pigeon himself as he communicates his feelings and stands up for his right to express them.

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