Mo Big or Mo Home

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure of attending a Mo Willems event at An Unlikely Story in Plainville, MA. I had never before seen Mo in front of an audience, and I was eager to experience the Mo effect.

When you read a picture book to a wriggling, squirming, noisy, semi-rambunctious crowd of preschoolers: GO BIG OR GO HOME. 

When you read a picture book to a wriggling, squirming, noisy, semi-rambunctious crowd of preschoolers:
GO BIG OR GO HOME. 

A capacity crowd of two hundred devotees of all ages gathered in the beautiful presentation space at the store. (Really, if you haven't attended an event at An Unlikely Story, the gorgeous second floor is worth the trip all by itself.) The room was happily buzzing by the time Mo emerged from the back. I think everyone knew they were in for a treat. When he took the stage, everyone burst into applause. And he hadn't even done anything yet.

Well, I guess he had already done a few things: like writing about fifty of the most beloved children's picture books of our day. It goes without saying that Mo's books are big-time crowd-pleasers—especially with the wiggly set that had gathered. And Mo read two of those books on Sunday: The Thank You Book (which is the final book in the Elephant and Piggie series) and an as-yet unpublished book, Nanette's Baguette, which will be released on October 25.

Now, the purpose of this post is not to gush about Mo, although in all honesty, he's pretty gush-worthy. No. what I want to talk about is something I learned. It's a lesson I thought I'd already learned, but after seeing Mo, I realized I hadn't fully internalized it. And it's this: when you read a picture book to a wriggling, squirming, noisy, semi-rambunctious crowd of preschoolers: GO BIG OR GO HOME. 

I've always considered myself a pretty animated reader. I like reading aloud to audiences. I do voices. I make gestures. I hold long, dramatic pauses. I gasp and snortle. And when I do school visits, I have no trouble holding the attention of a gym-full of kindergarteners with my action-filled program.

But reading a book. That's a different kind of magic act when you've got that many little ones in front of you. And Mo was extraordinary. If I thought I was animated before, I see now that I have been a 75-watt bulb compared to Mo's klieg light. He used every muscle in his body. He used every note in the range of his voice. He made facial expressions that I don't think have even been named. 

On September 13, I start touring with Panda Pants, a funny picture book meant for the pre-school and kindergarten set. Mo's performance has given me a whole new way of looking at how I read that book to an audience. I'm still working on it, but when I finally hit the road with Panda Pants, I'm determined to Go Mo or Go Home.