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Mo Willems

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Mo Willems
Willems at the Mazza Museum Fall 2012 Conference
Willems at the Mazza Museum Fall 2012 Conference
Born (1968-02-11) February 11, 1968 (age 56)
Des Plaines, Illinois, U.S.
OccupationAuthor, illustrator, animator, voice actor
EducationNew York University (BFA)
Cheryl Camp
(m. 1997)
ChildrenTrix Willems

Mo Willems (born February 11, 1968) is an American writer, animator, voice actor, and children's book author. His work includes creating the animated television series Sheep in the Big City for Cartoon Network, working on Sesame Street and The Off-Beats, and creating the popular children's book series Elephant and Piggie.

Willems was born in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines, Illinois[1][2] and was raised in New Orleans, where he graduated from Trinity Episcopal School[3] and the Isidore Newman School.[4][5] He graduated cum laude[6] from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

Three of Willems' books have been awarded a Caldecott Honor, for Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity.[7] The third book also won the Indies Choice Book Award for Children's Illustrated Book.[8]


Early life[edit]

When Willems was about 3 years of age, he took interest in cartoon artwork, drawing and creating his own characters. Willems enjoyed writing stories about his characters to share with others. However, he was disappointed when adults would praise his work politely, as he wanted feedback on the quality of his stories. To fix this dilemma, Willems wrote comedic stories, following the notion that even polite adults would not fake a laugh. When adults laughed, Willems assumed his story was good, and if the adults only gave polite comments, Willems assumed his story needed improvement.[9]

After graduating from Tisch, Willems spent a year traveling around the world drawing a cartoon every day, all of which have been published in the book You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons.[10]


Returning to New York, he started his career as a writer and animator for Sesame Street, where he earned six Emmy Awards for writing during his tenure from 1993 to January 2002.[11] The segments he wrote and animated for the show included a series of short segments featuring the recurring character Susie Kabloozie, and her pet cat, Feff. During this period he also performed stand-up comedy in NYC and recorded essays for BBC Radio along with making a promo for Cartoon Network and animating the opening for a show on Nickelodeon. He later created two animated television series: The Off-Beats for Nickelodeon and Sheep in the Big City for Cartoon Network.[12] Sheep in the Big City was a success with the critics but ultimately failed to attract sufficient viewership and was canceled after two seasons. Willems later worked as head writer on the first four seasons of Codename: Kids Next Door,[12] created by one of his colleagues from Sheep, Tom Warburton. He left the show to pursue his writing career.

Since 2003, Willems has authored numerous books for young children, many of which have garnered significant critical acclaim. The New York Times Book Review referred to Willems as "the biggest new talent to emerge thus far in the 00's"[13] — and to his pigeon character as "one of this decade's contributions to the pantheon of great picture book characters."[14] He also creates the Elephant and Piggie books, an early reader series about a friendly elephant and pig. In 2010, Willems introduced a new series of books featuring Cat the Cat, also aimed at early readers.[15]

Willems' books have been translated into a number of languages, spawned animated shorts that have twice been awarded the Carnegie Medal (Knuffle Bunny, 2007,[16] and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, 2010[17]), and been developed into theatrical musical productions. His illustrations, wire sculpture, and carved ceramics have been exhibited in galleries and museums across the nation.[18] He made several appearances on NPR's All Things Considered as the show's "radio cartoonist" in 2008.[19]

In 2019, Willems was named the Kennedy Center's first education artist-in-residence.[20] In 2020, the Center sponsored a series of virtual lunch doodles with Mo Willems as a way of keeping children entertained during the COVID-19 pandemic.[21]


In 2005, his book Leonardo, the Terrible Monster was named a Time Magazine Best Children's Book; it was also awarded a Book Sense Book of the Year Honor Book in 2006.[22]

Two animated versions of his books were awarded Carnegie Medals (Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!)[23]

Elephant & Piggie books won two Theodor Seuss Geisel Medals, for There Is a Bird on Your Head! and Are You Ready to Play Outside?, and five Geisel Honors, for We Are in a Book!, I Broke My Trunk!, Let's Go for a Drive!, A Big Guy Took My Ball!, and Waiting Is Not Easy![24] His 2009 I Love My New Toy! earned him a Golden Kite Award.[25]

The Pigeon Needs a Bath was awarded the Best Picture Book award by Goodreads in 2014.[26] The Thank You Book was awarded the same award by Goodreads in 2016.[27]

Willems won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Children's Series six times for his work on Sesame Street between 1995 and 2001.[22]

In 2019, Willems was named the Best of Brooklyn, during the Brooklyn Book Festival.[28]

In 2020, Willems recorded an audio book, The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!, for which he was nominated for the Audie Award for Young Listeners.[29] The same book had Willems on the NY Times Bestseller list for 11 weeks running.[30]

Personal life[edit]

He married Cheryl Camp in Brooklyn, New York, in 1997.[6] They reside in Northampton, Massachusetts.[31]


Willems has worked on a number of books on his own, as well as submitting work for other compilations.

As author[edit]

As animator[edit]


  1. ^ Mo Willems, "A Helluva Town(s)", Mo Willems Doodles (his official blog), February 8, 2008.
  2. ^ Abby Colich, Mo Willems (Capstone Publishers, 2013), ISBN 978-1476531571, p. 6. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  3. ^ Susan Larson, "Local writers continue to rack up awards" Archived March 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Times-Picayune, January 23, 2008.
  4. ^ Maria C. Montoya, "Mo Willems, author and former 'Sesame Street' writer, visits New Orleans", Times-Picayune, June 22, 2011.
  5. ^ "Publishing Success is Child’s Play for Mo Willems ’86", Isidore Newman School, September 30, 2009.
  6. ^ a b "New York Times: Weddings: Mo Willems and Cheryl Camp". The New York Times, Style Section. September 28, 1997.
  7. ^ a b c d American Library Association: Caldecott Medal & Honor Books, 1938–Present.
  8. ^ "Junior Library Guild : Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity by Mo Willems". www.juniorlibraryguild.com. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  9. ^ "Mo Willems", Authors, and Artists for Young Adults, vol. 71, Detroit: Biography in Context, 2006
  10. ^ "Pigeon Presents: You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons". Archived from the original on May 4, 2010. Retrieved January 30, 2010.
  11. ^ Mo Willems' biography
  12. ^ a b Mo Willems at the Internet Movie Database
  13. ^ Garner, Dwight (May 15, 2005). "New York Times Book Review: Inside the List". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  14. ^ Handy, Bruce (November 12, 2006). "New York Times Book Review: Churlish Critters". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  15. ^ "A Conversation With Mo Willems". School Library Journal. November 18, 2009.
  16. ^ Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children's Video: Past Winners
  17. ^ Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children's Video: Current Winner, 2010
  18. ^ National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature: Mo Willems
  19. ^ National Public Radio (NPR): Stories featuring Mo Williams
  20. ^ PBS NewsHour | Children's author Mo Willems on sparking creativity and joy | Season 2019, retrieved March 23, 2020
  21. ^ "What to Watch, Read and Listen To During Your Coronavirus Self-Quarantine". The New York Times. March 23, 2020. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  22. ^ a b "Awards and Honors - Mo Willems - Author and Illustrator". sites.google.com. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  23. ^ "Awards & Honors". Mo Willems. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h American Library Association, Association for Library Service to Children: (Theodor Seuss) Geisel Award Winners and Honor Books, 2006–Present.
  25. ^ "SCBWI | Past Golden Kite Recipients". Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  26. ^ "Announcing the Goodreads Choice Winner in Best Picture Books!". Goodreads. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  27. ^ "Announcing the Goodreads Choice Winner in Best Picture Books!". Goodreads. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  28. ^ León, Concepción de (June 19, 2019). "Brooklyn Book Festival Names Mo Willems 'Best of Brooklyn'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  29. ^ Willems, Mo (2019). The pigeon has to go to school!. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group. ISBN 978-1-368-04645-9. OCLC 1052902462.
  30. ^ "Children's Picture Books - Best Sellers - Sept. 29, 2019 - The New York Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  31. ^ "Mo Willems: Northampton - Children's Book Council". The Children's Book Council. Retrieved June 16, 2021.
  32. ^ a b c d "Charlotte Zolotow Award Books". CCBC. University of Wisconsin - Madison. Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  33. ^ a b c "Past Winners (Irma Black Award)". www.bankstreet.edu. Bank Street College of Education. Retrieved May 8, 2016.
  34. ^ Graeber, Laurel (June 29, 2022). "Naked No More: A TV Rodent Teaches Families About Tolerance". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 10, 2022.

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