Mo Willems won six Emmys for his work as a writer and animator on Sesame Street before leaving to write and illustrate children’s books. His subsequent Knuffle Bunny, The Pigeon, and Elephant and Piggie books have earned him a slew of major children’s literature awards — Caldecott Honors, Geisel Medals, and Geisel Honors — as well as #1 spots on the New York Times Bestseller List. Willems lives in Massachusetts with his wife and daughter.
What was the main takeaway from your years working on Sesame Street?
Sesame Street was my graduate school. It taught me how to write for children (don’t condescend) and showed me that I wanted to write for children (or at least people who haven’t yet learned how to be embarrassed). Most valuable lesson: Puppets make things funnier.
You left a career in television to become a stay-at-home dad. Looking back, what was the most surprising aspect of that time?
That’s a misconception, I’m afraid. I quit TV to become a work-at-home dad, which meant that between bits of work I finally got to spend time with my daughter, which is, and was, a wondrous thing. But Mom was always on the front-line, doing the difficult work of steering a household that suddenly had double the number of immature people clamoring for attention.
Why did you choose Paris as a location for your 2013 sabbatical? What was that adventure like for your family?
Paris is Paris. Living is Paris is not unlike going to kindergarten; each day is filled with enough astounding surprises that it helps to take naps. I love naps.
Knuffle Bunny and Elephant and Piggie have come to life on the stage via professional productions. How involved were you in the process and what is it like to see your work in such a medium?
I wrote them; so, whatever faults they have are mine, and I apologize. Television is highly collaborative, but there’s no time to finesse anything. Books afford you the time to get it “right,” but you’re on your own. Theater combines the fun of collaboration with the time to work through problems towards the best possible experience for your audience. It’s great, great fun to create and amazing to watch unfold on stage. Each performance is as unique as a person; it’s magic.
You could live anywhere in the world. Why Massachusetts?
It’s nice here, and so are the people.
Elephant and Piggie won another Geisel Honor this year. What’s next for them?
Elephant and Piggie have a few more upcoming adventures (I Really Like Slop! & The Thank You Book) before they will hang up their hats, end the series, and move on to other things. I’m curious as to what will tickle their fancy in the future.
What is your advice for parents of children who love to draw and create? How can they best foster and support their young artists?
Any creative endeavor that you think is important for your youngster to engage in, is also important for you to engage in. Draw WITH them. Write WITH them. Create WITH them. It’ll show how important it really is and you’ll have fun doing it!
What do you think is the most challenging part of being a parent today? The most rewarding?
Being a parent is a great ride that only gets better once you realize you’re not the one doing the steering.