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Mo Willems Has a Message for Parents: He’s Not on Your Side – The New York Times

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During the first wave of the pandemic in the winter, Mo Willems’s ‘‘Lunch Doodles’’ series, in which the beloved children’s-book author and illustrator led viewers in endearingly no-frills online drawing sessions, was a lifeline to families desperate to exercise their imaginations during the lockdown. (He pitched in again by hosting another doodle session on election night.) That Willems, who is 52, was ready to help during a hard, confusing time was no surprise. His two best-selling series of books — one about the odd couple Elephant and Piggie, the other about the mercurial Pigeon — resonate with the hard, confusing time of early childhood. In their whimsy, slapstick, and emotional matter-of-factness, these books have established their creator as sort of a cross between Dr. Seuss and Charles Schulz, with all the responsibility that implies. ‘‘The idea that one of my books would be one of the first that a child reads on their own — that’s incredibly powerful,’’ says Willems, who just published the latest in his Unlimited Squirrels series, ‘‘I Want to Sleep Under the Stars!’’ ‘‘Reading by yourself is the first time you don’t need your parents to do something vital. It’s a liberation.’’

When I was first putting together my questions for you, I realized that a lot of them had to do with things like how we can help kids with the ambient stress of parents’ worrying about the pandemic or politics. But maybe it’s wrong for me to assume that a has unique ideas about kids’ emotions. So let me ask you: Do you think you have special insights about kids? Probably the most fundamental insight is that even a good childhood is difficult: You’re powerless; the furniture is not made to your size. But when parents come up to me and ask, ‘‘How do you talk to the kid about the pandemic?’’ they’re asking me to be disloyal. They’re actually asking about a form of control. ‘‘Hey, you have this relationship with kids. Help me control them.’’ [Expletive] you! I’m not on your side. I wish there was a better way to say it. The real answer is: Show that you don’t know. Show them that you’re fumbling. Why wouldn’t you? How do you expect your child to fall and then stand up and say ‘‘That’s OK’’ when you won’t even say, ‘‘I don’t know how to discuss the pandemic with you’’? Are children not allowed to be upset? Does that inconvenience you? You want to protect and prepare them. But I’m not saying it’s easy.

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Mo Willems

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https://www.nytimes.com

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