I didn't intend to review Mo Willem's The Thank You Book, the 25th and final book in the Elephant & Piggie series that began in 2007. I first encountered these books as a bookseller and story-time-reader while working at Barnes & Noble. I wasn't a big fan of Willems's Pigeon books, mostly because I found them challenging to read out loud. I quickly discovered that Elephant & Piggie books were a joy to read out loud and had mass appeal, from little kids to parents to even teens! Then my youngest son started learning to read and my appreciation of what Willems was doing deepened immensely. You can read all about that experience HERE. I want to take this time to tell you what a deeply satisfying end to a series The Thank You Book is and share my experiences with Elephant & Piggie as an elementary school librarian and, of course, say THANK YOU to Mo Willems!
Willems's The Thank You Book is both a wrap-up and a genuine thank you to readers. While spending time with Gerald and Piggie is always a treat, I remember how exciting it was to pick up a new Elephant & Piggie book over the last nine years and find a new character in the story. Snake from Can I Play, Too? is probably my favorite. All these characters are back in The Thank You Book and on the endpapers! And, in a really awesome wink, Pigeon appears in the pages (and not just the endpapers) of The Thank You Book! Piggie apologizes for not including him in their books, to which Pigeon (in his own font) responds, "That is what you think!" The Thank You Book reads like the best ending to a long running television series possible. Readers get to revisit old friends and familiar story lines while also seeing their favorite characters do what they do best one last time.
I am finishing up my second full year as an elementary school librarian. More than 80% of the students at my school are socioeconomically disadvantaged, 65% of them are reading at grade level and 55% of them are English language learners. When I took over my library it had languished through more than a year of substitute librarians cycling in and out of the space and several years of a diminished or non-existent book buying budget. There were just a few Elephant & Piggie books on the shelves and they were not circulating. Taking advantage of my employee discount at Barnes & Noble one last time, and taking advantage of the generosity of my amazing principal, I bought a copy of every book in the series and began reading them out loud to my students - all grades. Gerald and Piggie became instant celebrities in the library. Today, we have at least three copies of each book in the series on the shelves (in their own special section) and they are always almost all checked out. They are a staple for my first graders, but I especially love checking them out to the kindergarteners. Technically, I'm not supposed to check books out to the kinders, but it's hard to say "no" to those adorable little faces. And I absolutely love telling them to look for Pigeon at the end of the book -and in all of Willems's books! Sometimes I have to nudge the second and third graders away from Elephant & Piggie, or encourage them to get one book at their reading level and one E&P. And, happily, I occasionally get older students checking these books out to read to younger siblings.
Willems's books have become a common thread for all of my students. As I read The Thank You Book over and over, about 25 times in all to all grades, I choked back more than a few tears. I explained to the students that this would be the last Elephant & Piggie book and their disappointment and shock was always audible. They didn't always understand why I was sad that this was the last book, but when I told them it was like saying, "Goodbye," to two good friends who were moving away, the lightbulbs went on - just like Piggie's often did. Having had two years now to inspire my students to read by hooking them with Willems's humor, I am looking forward to seeing our reading scores rise. And, while I am sad to think that there will be no more new books from Gerald and Piggie, I look forward to whatever it is Mo Willems does next, and I especially look forward to getting to share it with my students! THANK YOU, MO WILLEMS! Your books have made a difference in my life and the lives of my students.