Gail’s choice for February is ‘Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!’ by Mo Willems and first published by Hyperion for Children in 2003. It was awarded a Caldecott Honor in 2004 and is the first in a series featuring the Pigeon character. A bus driver who takes a break asks the reader not to let the Pigeon drive the bus. But the Pigeon desperately wants to drive it and appeals to the reader to give him permission to do so. The bus driver-to-reader and pigeon-to-reader approach encourages children to reflect on what is responsible action and what is not, and why not. It also develops their emotional literacy as they read and interpret the Pigeon’s expressions throughout the narrative.
Before showing the children the front cover, I would show them the front and back endpapers and ask what they think the Pigeon is dreaming about and why it would not be responsible to allow the Pigeon to drive a bus or a lorry. Perhaps they can predict the picturebook title?! I love the way the verbal narrative begins on the title page spread, where the bus driver addresses the reader incorporating the title ‘Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!’ into his speech bubble. The next opening, the copyright and dedication pages, continue the visual narrative as we see the bus driver walking out of the copyright page for his break and the Pigeon’s head and neck appearing at the bottom right-hand corner of the dedication page. And from here the verbal narrative continues, upon the page-turn, ‘I thought he’d never leave’ says the Pigeon who then tries to persuade the reader to let him drive the bus. Each time he pleads, the children can give some of the reasons they thought of earlier, for example, The Pigeon hasn’t got a driving licence. The Pigeon doesn’t know the Highway Code. His legs are too short, he can’t reach the pedals. It would be dangerous. He could crash the bus. He could cause an accident.
The illustrations are minimalist against a pale pastel coloured background. The words appear in speech bubbles, and everything, including the Pigeon, has a black crayon outline giving the illustrations a sort-of-cartoon style. Based on the back endpapers, the children could write and illustrate their own continuation of the story. As an extension activity the children could research pigeons and create a poster. Here are a few examples produced by 9/10 year-olds in France.
An animated adaptation of the book, produced by Weston Woods, won the 2010 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video. Here’s the film: