Classic Fantastic: Elephant and Piggie

Classic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format — please check out our other picks for the most important titles, in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, that every library should own.

What’s it about?

ThereisabirdonyourheadWhile Elephant and Piggie at first appear to follow the classic odd animal friends format seen in so many easy readers (think Frog and Toad) they bring a fresh look to this genre. Each story features a different interaction between Gerald (Elephant) and Piggie that ranges from easily relatable childhood struggles and fears to hilarious imaginative ventures. Gerald is the more cautious, often overthinking things and getting in a tizzy when he lets his imagination get too wild. Piggie is the experimenter, always full of enthusiasm and willing to try new things. When they hit obstacles or problems, Piggie’s innovation and Gerald’s patient determination combine to make them a great team. These are easy readers, so text is at a minimum and each book only contains a few repeated sentences. It’s Mo Willems’ art that really pulls the stories, as well as his perfectly timed sense of humor. Willems’ art is simple; there are no backgrounds, just Elephant, Piggie, and the occasional prop or friend, but it’s amazing how much he can do with a few simple lines.

In one of the most hilarious entries in the series, We are in a Book, Piggie breaks the fourth wall to explain to Gerald that they are in a book – and people are reading them! The two quickly figure out they can make the reader say silly words and it only takes a few repetitions of “banana” to have the readers and listeners rolling on the floor with laughter as Elephant and Piggie delight in their new power. But what makes these books stand out is that there’s so much more than just the simple joke of the basic story. As Elephant and Piggie interact with their reader they are teaching them how to read comics by following the word bubbles, explaining page numbers, and introducing young children to the idea that the words on the page have meaning. In my personal favorite, Can I Play Too? Gerald and Piggie meet a new friend – a snake! Snake would love to play catch with them, but she has no arms! After several exchanges, they figure out a compromise that allows everyone to join in. Again, below the surface jokes and laugh-out-loud images, (“oh boy” thinks the snake as she watches a rain of balls falling towards her) Willems teaches a subtle lesson about interacting with kids who are different, bringing new friends into a game, and not judging others by their limitations.

EP_Can-I-Play-Toolg     EP_Today-I-Will-Flylg     EP-we-are-in-a-book

Notable Notes

Elephant and Piggie have won numerous Geisel awards and honors and have been Cybil finalists and winners as well as garnering other awards. More personally, I have used them in outreach visits, storytimes, programs, and school projects since 2008 with great success and every child and parent I have introduced them to loves the series.

Significance

Mo Willems is one of several innovative and relatively new picture book authors who have become classic favorites for a new generation of young listeners and readers. Already well-known for the Pigeon picture books, he debuted the Elephant and Piggie easy readers in 2007 with four titles and he has published two or three new titles in the series every year since.

Elephant and Piggie is the first series to offer easy readers in comic format for young children. Kids introduced to reading by Elephant and Piggie will not only be learning to read, but also learning to read graphic novels. Elephant and Piggie’s adventures are fresh and relatable. Every young child has agonized over whether or not to share their ice cream with a friend, been devastated by a broken toy, or worried their friends don’t like them anymore. Willems’ art is timeless, eliciting giggles with a quick tilt of a head or sag of the ears and teaching kids visual literacy. The simple text and art is perfectly designed for the beginning reader, but even an older child can appreciate the humor and gentle lessons underneath the surface.

Appeal

These stories will appeal most to kindergarten through young elementary-aged kids, although I have used them successfully with older and younger children and have recommended them to high school students to use as dialogues. Elephant and Piggie have quite a few adult fans as well. They make excellent read-alouds as well as independent or shared reading.

Why should you own this?

Their wide appeal to young children of both genders and varied interests make this a series every public and school library will want to have in their easy reader sections. Bigger libraries will want to consider multiple copies of each title. The books are available in hardcover and some paperbacks, but the hardcovers are inexpensive and sturdy so even a small library can afford to purchase the entire series.

The eighteen titles in the series are currently in print, with two titles (A big guy took my ball & I’m a frog) planned for 2013. If you are just starting your collection, I suggest beginning with My friend is sad, Pigs make me sneeze, Watch me throw the ball, Can I play too, We are in a book, and Let’s go for a drive.

EP_My-Friend-is-Sadlg     EP_PigsMakeMeSneezelg     EP_Watch-Me-Throwlg     EP-Lets-Go_EP_Cover_013112

Elephant and Piggie series

by Mo Willems

  • There is a Bird on your Head
  • My Friend is Sad
  • Today I Will Fly
  • I am Invited to a Party
  • Are You Ready to Play Outside
  • I Will Surprise My Friend
  • I Love My New Toy
  • Pigs Make Me Sneeze
  • Elephants Cannot Dance
  • Watch Me Throw the Ball
  • I am Going
  • Can I Play Too
  • We Are in a Book
  • Happy Pig Day
  • Should I Share My Ice Cream
  • I Broke My Trunk
  • Let’s Go for a Drive
  • Listen to My Trumpet

Hyperion, 2007-