The bell has finally tolled for a certain feathered celebrity, and now The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! (Disney-Hyperion, July 2019), the 10th installment in Mo Willems’s series, finds our winged wonder forced to face facts: attendance is mandatory. The cover, revealed here exclusively for the first time, shows the small avian with the outsized attitude with his wings akimbo, in a typically defiant pose.
“I think this book addresses the current climate of uncertainty, of just not knowing what’s going to happen next in the world,” Willems told PW. “Uncertainty is almost as bad as dread and the pigeon is facing this uncertain unknown called school.”
Believe it or not, next year the pigeon will technically be old enough to get his learner’s permit. The first book in the series, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, debuted 16 years ago.
It has taken all that time for the pigeon to get ready to start school. Willems says that’s because he thinks of the pigeon not as a strong-willed toddler, as many do, but as an ageless manifestation of his own fears and desires.
“These books are really based on philosophical questions that I personally have,” said Willems. “The pigeon bath book is about transitions, about how difficult it is for me to move from the thing I’m doing to the next thing I’m supposed to do. The sleep book is more existential. How do you face things you don’t have any choice but to face?”
Similarly, the new book confronts inevitability: the pigeon must go to school, even though it is also completely predictable that he will resist. Surprisingly, this is not because the pigeon, who has a demonstrated stubborn streak, is being truculent, but because he is scared.
“This is the first time the pigeon is on the nose, or I guess, on the beak. He says what he feels. In that sense, there’s been a subtle change over time,” Willems said. “He can finally admit a weakness instead of trying to get by on bravado.”
In addition to going to school, the pigeon is also going on tour. “The Pigeon Comes to Topeka,” an interactive museum experience, opens on September 24 at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center. The exhibit, which originated in Pittsburgh two years ago, offers young visitors a chance to learn about animation, make a “flip book,” draw the pigeon, and, of course, drive the bus.
“I’m super proud of how the show looks and it was so much fun to get some of the ideas I have about creativity and learning and put them in a physical place,” Willems said.
Next year, in addition to dropping a new pigeon book, Willems is also releasing Because (Disney-Hyperion, Mar.), illustrated by newcomer Amber Ren. The story, about a girl’s journey from audience member to performer, is an homage to all the artists whose work moves a new generation to create. Willems dedicates the book to the legendary Charles Schulz, whose Peanuts comic strip sparked Willems’s interest in illustration as a career.
“As I’m getting older I’m getting more reflective,” Willems said, “and thinking about all the opportunities I was given that changed who I was. Everybody has these ‘because’ moments that change the course of your life.”