Friday, September 10, 2021



By Mo Willems


(Hyperion Books for Children, 2019)

No secret, I adore the works of Mo Willem…his Pigeon books, the Elephant & Piggie series, Knuffle Bunny, That Is NOT a Good Idea! and on and on. The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! is back on the picture book bestseller list because, well, a new school year has begun, but there’s likely been a sales boost due to the fact some children are re-entering school buildings after an extended period of seeing teachers and classmates solely through looking at a screen. The continuing kerfuffle over masks only adds to kids’ jitters. 


“Am I going to be okay?”


“Why is my teacher wearing a mask?”


“Why isn’t my teacher wearing a mask?”


“How come I have to wear a mask when Ava P. doesn’t have to?”


Thankfully, we have pre-COVID books that stick to the more normal concerns and playfully approach kids’ wonders and worries. 


Pigeon starts out asking what many five-year-olds ask: “Why do have to go to school? I already know EVERYTHING!” [NOTE: This contention, whether linked to academia or not, shall remain until the age of thirty.]  


It doesn’t take long until Pigeon gets real. Bring on the What ifs. “What if the teacher doesn’t like pigeons?” “WHAT IF I LEARN TOO MUCH!?!” “What if there is MATH?” Seriously, when was the last time you encountered a BEDMAS problem in real life?


You don’t have to be starting school to relate when Pigeon says, “The unknown stresses me out, dude.” Yep, totally.


That’s the beauty of the book. Children (and adults) can acknowledge their anxiety—we all experience it to some degree—and connect to the blue pigeon. It feels better knowing others, including, fictional feathered friends, have hopes and worries too…about school, about change, about things without one hundred percent clear answers. Like so much involving the pandemic. Oops, I went there again.


Back to pigeons and buses, please.


As an adult reader, it’s fun to also look at the copyright page (aka, reverse title page) to look at the sneaky bits Willems adds to the ho-hum legal/reference information. Here we learn that The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! was “(p)ublished near a very lovely bagel shop on the Upper West Side. My Uncle Herb goes there all the time.” Fascinating, if a tad incomplete. I Googled “Uncle Herb’s bagels” and got re-routed to a certain specialty “herb shop” in Alaska. Um, no. A future Big Apple bagel hunt shall have to wait. (I’m craving a cinnamon raisin with cream cheese.) There’s more, of course, but you’ll have to track down the book. 


Looks like someone HAS to go to the library now.



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