The funny, demanding, and easily frustrated Pigeon returns September 6 in The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster (Union Square Kids) by Mo Willems, a three-time Caldecott Honor recipient and winner of six Emmy Awards for his early work on Sesame Street. It’s the eighth title in the hugely popular Pigeon picture book series, which has sold millions of copies in North America and has been adapted for theater productions, museum exhibits, and TV specials. The Pigeon Will Ride the Roller Coaster marks the first of five book projects Willems is creating under the umbrella of a new publishing house, working with his longtime editor, Tracey Keevan, now editorial director at Union Square Kids.

“Every Pigeon book is a reaction,” Willems says. “The Pigeon finds, wants, needs, gets, can’t, has to, and, this time, will do something. That involves planning, expectations, accepting, and readjusting.” Pigeon’s new outing, Willems suggests, reflects what many readers have been experiencing in recent times: “Have your last few years been a roller coaster?”

Willems has navigated the pandemic’s ups and downs through a spectrum of creative endeavors and helped readers and their families do the same. He recently completed a two-year run as the inaugural Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence, where theater, classical music, jazz, dance, and comedy were all on his drafting table. The Kennedy Center hosted Willems’s Lunch Doodles series, which invited students at home to join Willems in his studio via video stream for art-making activities. Though his residency has ended, his work with the center continues.

“I have a few upcoming opera projects with composer Carlos Simon and soprano Renée Fleming—I am a so-so-prano by the way,” Willems says. “The National Symphony Orchestra just premiered two of my symphonic book projects, Because composed by Jessie Montgomery, and Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs composed by Ben Folds.”

On the streaming front, this summer brings the release of the CG-animated rock opera adaptation of Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, created with longtime collaborators Deborah Wicks La Puma and Tom Warburton, and in the fall, the Unlimited Squirrels! animated series debuts. Elsewhere, the author-illustrator-animator’s abstract artwork is being featured in a touring collaborative exhibition.

It’s a dizzying agenda, but Willems enjoys trying to fit everything in. “Playing in so many sandboxes is a busy, busy joy,” he says. “I try to guard my schedule to ensure there’s a healthy balance between creative work—the blank page—and reactive work—marking up and erasing bits of the no longer blank page with collaborators—while avoiding business meetings whenever possible.”

Mo Willems will be in conversation with Tracey Keevan, his longtime editor, on Thursday, May 26, noon–12:30 p.m. ET.

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