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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results (#5)

#5: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (2003)
157 points (29 votes, #10, #4, #6, #2, #1, #9, #8, #3, #6, #7, #3, #6, #10, #4, #9, #2, #3, #5, #2, #7, #8, #9, #8, #7, #4, #7, #6, #7, #9)

Willems wasn’t the first picture book author to break down the “fourth wall” and have his characters speak directly to the reader, he’s just proven to be the best at it. When Pigeon debuted in 2003 it became an immediate read aloud smash and reminded everyone that yes, books are entertainment and that’s a good thing. – Travis Jonker

Another book that reflects the experience of childhood.  Kids just don’t get things their way very much – although they try! They are almost always being told No, and their lives are in the complete control of adults. This book taps into that frustration and the fury of the pigeon is soooo cathartic! Chris Rodas

One testament to the greatness of this book is the fact that some kids find it distressing. The emotional pressure is too intense — they’d rather just let the pigeon drive the bus already, if it matters to him so much. – Anna Hebner

In the midst of calculating the results of this poll as they rolled in I found myself embroiled in strange unruly fight in which I was the sole spectator.  Case in point, the battle between Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny.  For the first half of the month of March, it seemed like nobody loved the old Pigeon.  He’d get a small vote here.  A conciliatory nod there.  But Knuffle Bunny was riding high on the public’s love and affection.  Then Pigeon started catching up.  Slowly at first.  Then faster.  The remainder of the month was a mad hair-pulling, teeth gnashing, one-on-one competition between two Mo Willems projects.  Until that last day when I started compiling the last 20-30 votes,  I still had no idea who was going to reign victorious.  A Knuffle over Pigeon win would be quite the upset, no?  Well, here we are.  I’m still convinced that in the long run, Knuffle may turn out to be the surprise classic.  But I’ll have to wait another 20+ years before conducting another picture book poll to prove my findings (think you that I am kidding?).

Children’s Literature describes the plot in this way: "In this picture book with simple pictures and lots of empty space, a cute blue pigeon begs the reader to let him drive the bus while the bus driver is gone. He implores, promises, whines, begs, bribes (like I don’t get enough of this from my kids) in order to get his chance. He says things like, ‘I bet your mom would let me’ or ‘I have dreams you know.’ This could actually be a sad book (hey, I was always the kid who wanted the Trix rabbit to actually get some Trix) except for the last two pages. After the bus drives off leaving the pigeon looking dejected, a semi drives up, the pigeon looks at it, and says, ‘Hey…’, and the end papers of the book have the pigeon smiling, eyes closed as he envisions himself driving a semi."

Here is what we know about the creation of this book (yet again that sneaky 21st century publication date is wreaking havoc with my reference tools).  I’m drawing on my memory files here, so someone correct me if I get any of this wrong.  When our story begins Mo Willems is an animator, a cartoonist, and the kind of fellow who can do a gig on Sesame Street in his spare time.  Every year he creates these little sketchbooks for his friends and acquaintances.  He’s been doing them since 1993.  Anywho, he creates one of them and it’s just this funny little black and red ditty called Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  It’s pretty much what you see in its final finished form today, actually.  Well, his literary agent (Marcia Wernick) tries to sell this puppy all over town.  Bupkiss.  Publishers aren’t interested.  It’s way too weird.  Too wild.  Too unlike what’s selling today (though I’m sure someone could have remembered that The Monster at the End of this Book has a similar layout and a heaping helping of moolah as a result).  The happy ending?  Book sells.  Mo’s suddenly a picture book author/illustrator.  Batta bing, batta boom, instant success.  The masses cheer.  The children get to scream "No" even more often on a daily basis.

Six years later the Hyperion website announces that, "DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS! Has been named a finalist for the Picture Book Hall of Fame for the 2009 Indies Choice Book Awards."  Picture Book Hall of Fame, eh?  Well guess what?  It got in.  It got in alongside a duck related winner and some book with a big hairy horned thing on the cover.  The best news is that all the finalists are on this Top 100 Picture Book Poll Results list.  My readers are so clever (and so charming and good looking too).

Mind you, you could probably find this all out by going to The Pigeon Presents, a unique user-friendly site that includes all things Mo (but not, unfortunately, mo’ things awl).  You may also just do what I did and skip to the grownup stuff section where the videos will say everything I just did but with zing and pizzazz.

The Pigeon has, of course, been adapted to the stage (with a sequel).  You may also see it as a Halloween costume (countdown to future Sexy Halloween Pigeon Costumes in three . . . two . . . one . . .)

And finally, apropos of nothing, I adore the fact that the Barnes and Noble entry for this book inexplicably has decided to write the Mo Willems biography in Spanish.  We would have also have accepted pig latin.

School Library Journal said of it, "In a plain palette, with childishly elemental line drawings, Willems has captured the essence of unreasonableness in the very young. The genius of this book is that the very young will actually recognize themselves in it."

Booklist, starred review in tow, said, "Willems is a professional animator, and each page has the feel of a perfectly frozen frame of cartoon footage–action, remarkable expression, and wild humor captured with just a few lines. Preschoolers will howl over the pigeon’s dramatics, even as they recognize that he wheedles, blows up, and yearns to be powerful just like they do."

Publishers Weekly said, "Readers will likely find satisfaction in this whimsical show of emotions and, perhaps, a bit of self-recognition."

Kirkus and its starred review said, "A first picture book by an Emmy Award–winning writer and animator, listeners will be begging, pleading, lying, and bribing to hear it again and again."

And Horn Book‘s starred review said, "Clean, sparely designed pages focus attention on the simply drawn but wildly expressive (and emotive) pigeon, and there’s a particularly funny page-turn when a well-mannered double-page spread with eight vignettes of the pleading pigeon gives way to a full-bleed, full-blown temper tantrum."

Previous Top 100 Picture Book Posts include:































About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Els Kushner says:

    Aha! I figured that pigeon would show up sometime– he always does!

    And thanks for the Indies clue– now I know what other book I missed besides Knuffle ;-/ (Oh, Trixie, I should have been true to thee…) Ah, well; I guess 8 for 10 ain’t so bad.

  2. This week I was blathering on about this list to a friend of mine. Trying to enlist sympathy to my plight of missing the call on Knuffle Bunny, I was going over my other top ten choices trying to get him to agree that indeed each and every one of my choices must have made the list elite. When I got to the Pigeon, I said something incoherent like *naturally the Pigeon made it, even if Knuffle is also on the list, wouldn’t the world stop turning if the Pigeon wasn’t also on the list?* And he looked down at me with a quizzical look on his face and said, (and I’m not sure I should repeat this blasphemy), and he said, *Can you explain the appeal of Mo Willems to me?* Flabbergasted I glared at him and asked him if he had ever, ever read a Mo Willems book aloud to a living breathing child? Of course he hadn’t! I’m not sure what the magic that Mo uses, but the second anyone of his sentences is read aloud into the ear of a child a connection is made, and every child feels understood and vindicated.
    (Disgruntled muttering: now where did I go wrong? Did I go one Seuss to many or is Spring the wrong time to put forth a book on inclement weather?)

  3. David Ziegler says:

    Whoo Hooo! Yay Pigeon! I love this book and love reading it to children. Hey wait! This gives me an idea. Umm umm. Mz. Bird! Can you let me pick the last four books? Puhleaze! I’ll give you five bucks. I’ll be your best friend. Hey, even your bff. WHAT? NO? I WaNT tO PIcK tHe tOP 4!!!!!!! Wait, there’s always the upcoming 100 best easy readers
    or the upcoming 100 best fairy and folk tales list! (Happy sigh)

  4. Carl in Charlotte says:

    Does this happen with any else? Whenver I read this book aloud, all the kids gleefully shout “NO!” until the Pigeon says, “I’ll give you five bucks”–at which point a few wiseacres always say, “Sure!”

  5. For those of us puzzled by this sort of thing, what makes Pigeon a picture book rather than an Early Reader? Anyway, I’m thrilled it made the top ten and I still got to use my vote for something else.

  6. Fuse #8 says:

    Size is one consideration. Compare it to the Elephant and Piggie books, also by Mr. Mo, which are Easy Reader sizes. Pigeon, by contrast, is a large square shape, ideal for readalouds. Also, there’s the intent. While a child could learn to read with this book, it wasn’t written with the purpose of being an easy reader per say.

  7. Thanks! When I was working on my list I didn’t have any actual books to hand, and I’m afraid I was remembering them all as being the same size and shape. The vocab seems similar in memory, too, which is why I asked.