Oh this book. I love this book. It makes me laugh, out loud, a lot. With as many books as Mo Willems puts out with his beloved Knuffle Bunny series, Pigeon books, Elephant and Piggie readers, Cat the Cat, and many more… I always think I’m going to tire of his humor. But no, once again just last year, Mo added more delight to the bookshelves with this hilarious, reinvented fairytale. This is Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, retold by Mo Willems, 2012.
A rather bizarre tale of its own, Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a story that has been in circulation for a couple of centuries. Its evolution over the years is intriguing as it continues to be passed down and frequently altered by the storyteller. It seems only fitting that Mo Willems should tweak and enhance the story at will.
Willems’ version of the tale begins with 3 dinosaurs: a Papa, a Mama, and “some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.” Mo’s comic humor at its best. Written in an optimistic, trying not to think the worst of the situation, narrative way; the story unfolds to share how the three dinosaurs make their beds, set their chairs just so, and prepare 3 bowls of chocolate pudding at varying temperatures — for no particular reason, of course.
Then enters Goldilocks, or as the narrator describes her, “a poorly supervised little girl” who “never listened to warnings about the dangers of barging into strange, enormous houses.” And the laughs keep coming. Taking the original story’s elements and revealing their inherent oddity, Willems’ packs these pages with drama, humor, deliciousness, a little bit of moral, and lots of sarcasm (which might be lost on little ears, but will be enormously hilarious to adult readers).
This was one of our books at storytime this past weekend and it was quite fun to watch not only the children’s reactions and laughter, but to see (and hear) the many adults in their surprised delight. Everyone in the store, whether there for storytime or not, was drawn into the reading and I saw many adult heads peeking around the corner; as well as heard several chuckles from behind the bookshelves. Books like this are fantastic for family reading. Many question how much of the humor a child would really pick up on, but I don’t think that should be an issue. First off, give kids some credit! They understand so much more than we realize; and safe, fun humor like this should be highly celebrated. Secondly though, you should have seen the kids’ faces at storytime as they enjoyed the book themselves; but then were amazed to see adults and especially their parents thoroughly enjoying a picture book. Oh what a message that sends to little learners. Books are fun! Adults love to read too! Picture books aren’t only for babies! Whether or not they picked up on all of the humor, they had a blast. What child doesn’t love dinosaurs, and chocolate pudding, and pure silliness? Add to that their parents’ uninhibited laughter and you have a fantastically memorable good time.
I highly recommend this one. Mo Willems has yet to disappoint with his ever-surprising humor. And yet, I keep wondering why I’m surprised. Who couldn’t love a guy who pictures himself as a dinosaur?
One last thought, I couldn’t help but be intrigued at how the assuming-the-best narration reminded me of the post-Caldecott Daily News article (I mentioned here). It discussed how this year’s favorite books have a subtle message where “the reader quickly realizes that their narrator is unreliable, delusional, and ultimately doomed.” Whether or not it is intentional, I think these kind of books are a prime example of how important picture books really are for everyone. No other medium allows such storytelling where the words and the pictures can tell very different stories and the reader puts them together for a unique experience. This is a picture book done exceptionally well.