Mo Willems, the award-winning author-illustrator of the Elephant and Piggie and Pigeon series, wants to make babies feel welcome in his newly released picture book, Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals (Disney-Hyperion). Organized like an instruction manual with bright road-sign illustrations and Mylar mirrors throughout, the book is designed to hold babies’ interest—and underscore the importance of reading. It’s also meant to be welcoming to the adults in young children’s lives.
Without question, reading to children is important. But Willems also emphasizes the time spent with the child. “Sometimes,” he notes, “it’s not even important what you say, it’s just the moment of being with the child.” To that end, Welcome was created to offer a tactile experience for babies and adults to enjoy together.
For each of his books, Willems considers the interplay between words and pictures as a dance between the “physical object,” the book, and the text. He begins each new project by asking, “What are the aesthetics of the piece and how does that inform the language?” Early on in writing Welcome, Willems says he knew that signs would be a major theme. Next he had to decide, “How big are these signs going to be? And what’s the color story of the book?” Answering those questions helped him find the story’s rhythm, a process he describes as “organic.” He compares it to “growing a plant, where you have to be there and ready and open for unexpectedness, because that’s part of it.”
The signs welcome the reader or “readee,” as Willems describes the baby or small child, without making reference to race or gender. The concepts, for Willems, are “fundamental universals that are being discussed,” and the idea of being inclusive plays a big role in this. The last page, which ends with “You are loved/ right here,/ right now...,” drives the point home for the reader as much as the readee. “Hopefully,” says Willems, “[love] is not something you need to earn. There are other things you need to earn, but the love should be there.”
Today, 11–noon. Mo Willems will sign finished copies of Welcome in the Autographing Area, at Table 1.