Monday, January 7, 2013

Elephant & Piggie

by Mo Willems
Hardcover, 50+ pages

My three-year-old and I both love Elephant and Piggie - when I bring a new one home from the library often times she will literally squeal with delight (before having kids I always thought that was just an expression – now I know better). They are great books for preschoolers and also very fun for first graders just learning to read.

Piggie is the more expressive of the two friends, but Gerald the Elephant can get bouncy and loud too. It's one adventure after another for two very good friends who are thoughtful, fun-loving, curious and most definitely loud (it's no coincidence that nearly every book title is capped off with an exclamation mark!).

My daughter loves the stories because the drawings and the characters are just so energized! The plots are simple enough for her to follow, and bring up situations that she understands (like dealing with a friend breaking a toy, learning to throw a ball, and cheering up a sad elephant).

All of the books are full of silly fun, and most of them teach simple moral lessons without being obvious about it. For example, in Listen to My Trumpet, Piggie's performance is so bad, Elephant doesn't know quite how to tell her. So he praises her for what he can: her trumpet is shiny, and she can play it loud, and she holds it very well. But when Piggie insists on hearing his opinion of her playing, he is honest. Fortunately, it turns out that Piggie wasn't trying to play music, but was instead trying to sound like an elephant, so it all works out in the end. What a great lesson in, and example of, honesty and tactfulness!

Another feature I appreciate is that the stories are generally limited to two characters. That makes it a bit simpler to handle giving them different voices (I go with a high voice for the girl Piggie, and low for Elephant, and that's pretty much the limit of my vocal ability - if a third character shows up they are stuck with my normal voice).

And I love that there are 18 of these. When I do eventually get tired of one book (long before my daughter is) I can bring home another one from the library, to her squealing delight!

Recommended for 3-9. The following are short reviews of each title, listed in alphabetical order. You can click on the titles to find them on

Are You Ready to Play Outside?
Piggie want to play outside. She really wants to play outside. But then it starts to rain. What's a pig to do? Maybe a change of attitude, and a good friend, can help her have fun no matter what the weather.

Can I Play Too?
Elephant and Piggie are going to play catch, but then Snake asks if he can play too. But Snake does not have arms, so how can he play catch? After a few misadventures Piggie, Elephant and Snake figure out how to play the game so then can include everyone. With a little commentary from mom or dad, this is could be a great way to teach kids about thinking of others, and include others in what they do.

Elephants Cannot Dance!
Elephants cannot dance – it even says so in a book! But as Piggie reminds her friend, that doesn't mean you can't try! And while Elephant is not very good at doing most dances, he can do a very good rendition of "the Elephant dance." This is a title that, with some parental guidance, can be used to teach children that while they will not be good at everything, they can still try to improve, and they have their own unique talents and abilities.

Happy Pig Day!
It's "Oinky Oink Oink!" (that's pig for "Happy Pig Day!") and Elephant feels left out – he doesn't have a snout, or hooves, and he is not pink! But then Piggie explains that "Happy Pig Day!" isn't just for pigs; it is for anyone show loves pigs! So that certainly includes Elephant!

I Am Going?
Piggie is going, and Elephant is having a hard time dealing with it. I was hoping this one could be used to teach my daughter how to deal with the "It's time to go home now" situation, this title would just exasperate the drama. Elephant just cannot stand being apart from Piggie, and, it seems, he never has to be. Though I love the series, this is one isn't all that good.

I Am Invited to a Party!
When Piggie is invited to a party, she turns to Elephant to figure out what to wear because "he knows parties!" Good clean silly fun!

I Broke My Trunk!
This is a laugh-out-loud story for both parent and child. How did Elephant break his trunk? Did balancing a hippo and rhinoceroses on it have anything to do with it? Nope. Or at least, not directly. This is my favorite in the whole series.

I Love My New Toy!
Piggie has a new toy she really wants to show Elephant. But when she shows it to him, he accidentally breaks it. Piggie does not deal with this very well, even though Elephant is very sorry. But when it turns out the toy isn't really broken after all, Elephant shows Piggie where her priorities should have been: "Friends are more fun than toys."

I Will Surprise My Friend!
After Piggie and Elephant see two squirrels having fun jumping out and surprising each other they decide to try it too. They agree to meet at a the big rock. But when they both arrive on opposite sides of the rock, and thus don't see the other, each begins to wonder what happened to the other. The humor here comes in the contrast: Gerald wonders if Piggie might have fallen off a cliff, or been abducted by a giant bird, or whether she might be fighting a scary, scary monster right now while Piggie wonders if Gerald might have gone for lunch. Funny, but Gerald's wondering made this a bit borderline for my three-year-old, making this the only book in the series I wouldn't read her right before bedtime.

Let's Go for a Drive!
Elephant wants to go for a drive. And if you are going to go for a drive you need lots of stuff, like maps, sunglasses, umbrellas and luggage to carry it all. Fortunately his friend PIggie has everything they need. Or does he? Lots of fun repetition in this one that your child will catch on to quickly and be able to shout out along with you.

Listen to My Trumpet!
When Elephant hears Piggie playing her new trumpet he has to figure out a nice way to say she is very, very, very, very, very bad! He does a good job, which makes this a fun and instructive book.

My Friend is Sad
When Elephant is sad Piggie decides to cheer him up by dressing up as a cowboy, then a clown and finally a robot. But he still doesn't cheer up. Why not? Because he is sad that Piggie wasn't there to see them too! One caution: parents may want to note that while friends are a blessing, they are not everything.

Pigs Make Me Sneeze!
Is Elephant allergic to Piggie? Could his best friend be making him sneeze? Or might there be another reason for why Elephant is sneezing all the time? More silly fun!

Should I Share My Ice Cream?
Elephant wants to be a generous soul. But share ice cream? It's so yummy! Elephant spends so much time wrestling back and forth that by the time he finally decides to share, his ice cream has melted! But don't worry – Piggie sees that her friend is sad, so, to cheer him up, she offers to share her ice cream.

There Is a Bird On Your Head!
Piggie gives the moment by moment commentary as first one bird, and then two, land on Elephant's head, build a nest, and have eggs that soon hatch. Complete nonsense, and lots of fun.

Today I Will Fly!
You may think pigs can't fly, but when Elephant tells Piggie that, it doesn't discourage her in the least. And, with a little help from a friend, she does get off the ground!

Watch Me Throw the Ball!
Elephant is very good at throwing a ball. Piggie... not so much. But she sure has fun trying! A caution I might add for this one is on boasting. All of it is done in fun, but there sure is a lot of it here! Parents will want to point out that boasting in our strength, if we actually mean it, is disgraceful (Prov. 11.:2).

We Are in a Book!
Piggie and Elephant discover that they are in a book. They then have great fun when they realize they can get the reader to say whatever they want (and they really want the reader to say "Banana"). But when Elephant discovers that, like all books, this one is going to end, he and Piggie figure out a way for the fun to continue - they ask the reader to read the book again! This is an inventive book, but a tad taxing if daddy wanted to read just one more book.

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