book thoughts: My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems

My Friend is Sad. By Mo Willems.  Hyperion,

2007.  57 pages.  $8.99

 

Mo Willems’ already had two Caldecott Medals for his picture books Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale when he published his first books for beginner readers. So it came as no surprise to his fans that Elephant and Piggie would contain the same kind of humorous storytelling that appeals to both children and adults. 

My Friend is Sadopens with Gerald the elephant sighing heavily.  His good friend Piggieis concerned and decides that she will cheer him up.  Over the next fewpages, she appears in various costumes of things she knows Geraldlikes, but none of them make him happy.  Piggieis perplexed about what to do next, so she decides to just talk toGerald.  The next part of the story will have both children and theirparents giggling with delight.

Gerald and Piggie’s story of friendship will bring to mind Arnold Lobel’s classic Frog and Toad series, except Gerald and Piggie are targeted toward early readersMy Friend is Sad contains only four or five words per page, all of them words a new readercan recognize by sight.  When Piggie enters in one of her costumes, thevisual clues help the beginner reader sound out the more complex word on the next page, such as cowboy. There is plenty of space between the words and the lines, helping thenew reader distinguish the stop and start of words and sentences.  The text size is quite large, probably around 22 point font size, and even larger when Gerald excitedly describes to Piggie his visit from “A COOL COOL ROBOT!”   

Willems’illustrations are simple yet expressive.  The cartoon pig and elephantseem to run across the page, and even the youngest child can read theemotions on the characters’ faces.  The pages are completely blankexcept for our two main characters and the lack of scenery might help abeginner reader focus better on the text.  It also provides a greatstarting point for discussion between parent and child – “Where do youthink Gerald and Piggie are today?”  Each of Piggie’s entrances are twopage spreads with no text, so the adult and child working through thebook together can take a moment to identify her outfit, whic
h shouldhelp the beginner reader with the more complex word on the next page.
  Alongwith that, Willems applies comic strip sensibilities to the text. Instead of having the words across the bottom of each page, he createsword bubbles encircling the lines in character specific colors (gray for Gerald, pink for Piggie) that clearly assign each statement to a character. 

Though this book is perfect for early readers that have just mastered the world of sight words,this title will not collect dust on the shelf.  The livelyillustrations and hilarious interactions between Elephant and Piggiewill keep young readers coming back for more and parents won’t mind hearing this silly, sweet story one more time.

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