Little kids rarely tire of hearing about the antics of naughty children and pigeons. Just saying no, David! or the word pigeon can elicit laughter and have young readers shouting for more.
If youve not met David or the pigeon, heres an introduction. The pouty bird is the star of a series of best-selling childrens books written and illustrated by Mo Willems, including Dont Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Hyperion, 2003) and Dont Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! (Hyperion, 2006). David is the big-headed, snaggle-toothed star of No, David! (Blue Sky Press, 1998), the first in a popular series by David Shannon.
Both Willems and Shannon say they heard a lot of no, no, no as young boys, and little kids can surely relate. Thats what is important when reading to kids, whether its traditional books or e-books, research shows: helping little ones make concrete connections to their own worlds.
Willems, who also has done prize-winning work for Sesame Street, drew the little pigeon character as simply as possible so a child could copy it just a stick-figure bird with two circles for eyes.
The pigeons actions resemble a childs own saying hes not tired, that theres a good TV show he doesnt want to miss, and begging for a glass of water. Children are empowered to answer back and decide no, the pigeon cannot stay up late. Or drive the bus, for that matter.
Kids who have a snuggly animal or blankie that they tote everywhere can relate to another series by Willems. In Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (Hyperion, 2004), Trixie, Daddy and Knuffle Bunny take a trip to the neighborhood Laundromat. The adventure takes a sad turn when Trixie realizes her bunny was left behind. Eventually the toy is found, Daddy is the hero, and Trixies adventures with her favorite toy continue in subsequent books.
In a recent National Public Radio interview, Willems calls parents who are telling stories his orchestra. He wants them to be engaged and silly, and delight in reading with their children. Kids then pick up on their enthusiasm and learn that reading is awesome, he says.
As for Shannon, he made the original No, David! when he was young, and his mom saved the little book, he says in an interview for literacy website Reading Rockets (readingrockets.org). He says he was mischievous as a child, but not as bad as the character David. As an adult, he saw the humor in all the ways moms say no. Shannon points out that his pictures reinforce the story, and that he drew the character more like a 5-year-old would draw him.
In David Goes to School (Blue Sky Press, 1999), the character shows up late to class, chews gum, yells answers out of turn, pulls pigtails, cuts in line, has a food fight and draws on his desk. After a day of misbehaving, David stays after school and washes all the desks until they sparkle. The day ends with David redeemed, earning a gold star and a pat on the head.
The David books can be a springboard for talking about appropriate behavior. After listening to No, David! repeatedly, one class of preschoolers came up with their own rules: No taking stuff without asking. No saying baby words. And, importantly, No throwing sand in eyeballs. A good lesson for us all.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, is a mother and preschool teacher. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-236-9510.