Tuesday, May 26, 2015


It all started with THERE IS A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD.

I read it to the first grade one day when Kathy, their teacher had to leave early and I was covering the class at the end of the day. You probably know BIRD- it's one of the earliest in Mo Willems' Gerald and Piggie series. It's also one of my favorites. I can read it to first graders. And fourth graders. And even eighth graders. It's just silly funny. And fun. It makes me laugh. And it makes the kids laugh.

So I read it to the first graders. A few weeks before they started our district's first grade author study. Who happens to be Mo Willems.  And it started something. The first graders are Mo Willems' groupies!

Every time I walk into their classroom, the first graders think I'm there to read Mo Willems. The author study has been over for several weeks, but they won't let Kathy take down the Mo Willems shelf- they're not done with the books. Frantic book waving six-year-olds chase me down the hall to tell me about the Mo Willems' books they found at Reading Rocket (the mobile library that comes to our school every Thursday). They remind me, on a  pretty much daily basis, that Mo Willems is one of my favorite authors and now he is one of theirs too.

I wasn't surprised, then, when Mo's name came up again last week. I had gone into first grade to pick up a student for testing. I was standing by the reading table, waiting for Kathy to pull her testing materials, when J. approached.

"Dr. Carol, does Mo Willems have any new books? Because we have read all of these," he said, gesturing to the shelf containing at least twenty Mo Willems' books.

"Umm, I'm not sure, J, but we could probably look on his website and find out. Should we try that?"

I sit down and set up my laptop on the reading table. Immediately I am surrounded by ten Mo Willems groupies. They have heard their favorite author's name and want to be included in the discussion.

We scan the website. I think new books might be posted on Mo's blog, but they are not. Instead, we discover that Mo has an exhibit opening at a museum in Atlanta. Immediately, the first graders think we should take a field trip.  They are also ready to see the Gerald and Piggie play in Chicago. Unfortunately, we do not find any new books. Fifteen minutes later, I move on to my testing.

A little later, I am waiting for a meeting with the fourth grade teachers. The Mo Willems' website is still open on my computer, so I poke around a little more. On a page called "Get Mo' Stuff!" I discover that there actually are three new books, one in English and two in Spanish, coming out on June 2nd. And I know we have to have them. Before our last day on June 6th.

Just before lunch, I make my way back to the first grade classroom. Kathy rolls her eyes when she sees me coming. I announce my discovery to the first grade and show them the picture of the cover. They are thrilled.

"Can you go get it? Will you order it?" they ask. I explain, again, that it won't be available for about ten days. But that I will order it. And we will read it the last week of school. They are over-the-moon ecstatic. And ask me, repeatedly, throughout the week, if I have ordered the book. And when it will come. They even know the title.

Our DRA scores are not as good as we had hoped. We still have way too many kids reading below our state's identified proficiency level.

At the same time, I'm not that worried. I know these kiddos are readers. I know they will go to the library this summer. I know they will head straight for the Mo Willems' shelf and that they will read and reread and reread his books. I know they will examine the pictures, searching for Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny on every page. I know they will laugh. I know they will come back to school in August and tell me, on that very first day, what books they have read. They are Mo Willems' groupies.

Creating groupies. Isn't that what reading instruction should be all about?


Kimberley Moran said...

My first graders adored Mo Willems as well. I loved your post. I, too, find it my mission to create book groupies. Your DRA comment made me sad. What are we trying to create? I've felt badly about my NWEA scores for a while now, though I know my kids adore reading and beg me to purchase the next books in a series etc.

Kyle said...

DRA reading level or kids begging for a new book? This is not what came first the chicken or the egg. This is if they love to read their scores will follow. I'd weather have a class filled with kids loving to read instead of a class of robots.

Linda B said...

Love the 'groupie' idea, and I know exactly what you mean. It's a question my granddaughter asks each time she visits: Do you have any new Elephant & Piggie books? Wouldn't it be wonderful if that play came to Denver! So lovely that you ordered the book!

elsie said...

I think Mo Willems has groupies of all ages, me included. If only legislators would understand that you have to have a love and need for reading before mandating proficiency. Enjoy this new book in your last week.

Elisabeth Ellington said...

My college students are Mo Willems's groupies too! Many of my Children's Lit students put together Top 10 lists for their final project--and there were so many Mo Willems books on those lists. I love knowing that all of these students will go on to share Mo Willems in their classrooms.

Michelle said...

I'm a groupie too! I love Mo Willems and especially my buddies, Elephant and Piggie. And guess what? I'm here in Chicago and took my two girls to see the play -- it was fabulous! I'll share a couple pics via Twitter for you to share!

Mary Lee said...

It's about charming groupies and the one who fuels their book obsessions until they are able to do that for themselves.

(And just for the record, Kathy did not roll her eyes when she saw you coming. She looked toward heaven and gave a silent prayer of thanks that you are in her life.)