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Author Of ‘Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!’ Brings Work To Pittsburgh Children’s Museum

Courtesy of Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Prototype photo for "The Pigeon Comes to Pittsburgh: A Mo Willems Exhibit"

Pigeon, Piggie, Elephant and Knuffle Bunny will soon make their way to the Steel City. Popular children’s author Mo Willems is collaborating with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on a new installation called The Pigeon Comes to Pittsburgh: A Mo Willems Exhibit.

The interactive exhibit, which will travel to other cities after its premier in Pittsburgh, involves some of Willems’ most popular characters – including Piggie and Elephant.

Anne Fullenkamp, director of design at the Children’s Museum, said they wanted to create a variety of hands-on encounters for visitors.

“Most books are about friendships and the everyday dramas of children's lives,” she said. "We wanted to make sure that we had a good variety of experiences and things that would be great jumping off points for conversations between parents and children.”

Those experiences, twelve in all, include a Thank-o-Rama machine, based on Piggie and Elephant’s friendship. Children practice the art of sharing their feelings and expressing themselves through thank-you notes. After spinning a giant wheel with an array of potential people to thank, kids can write the selected person a note and have it displayed for other visitors to see.

Another activity involves the museum’s art studio, where people will learn to draw along with Willems through instructional videos. Fullenkamp said the goal is to show children that they can be artists too.

“You can sit there and go through the process with [Willems] of drawing characters, and one of the things you were able to do is to create the three processes that he goes through,” said Fullenkamp. "The first part of it is we have this big table where you can doodle just like [Willems] does, starting out with just sketch ideas and we have this big table with craft paper similar to how he works at home."

The next step involves creating a more finished line drawing with specific forms and shapes. Finally, the museum has a light table for tracing – not unlike the final inking process Willems goes through when he's drawing.

Fullenkamp said they got the idea of collaborating with Willems after a successful partnership with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass. in 2015.

“So we have that relationship, and the folks at the Carle Museum have been working with Mo Willems for years, and thought that we would be a good fit.”

Willems’ popular titles include Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, the Knuffle Bunny series, and Waiting Is Not Easy! His dozens of books include recurring characters that Fullenkamp said appeal to people of all ages.

“Mo’s books are very, very funny and I think that's one of the reasons they're so popular; they're funny for kids, they're really relatable, but they also have a very sophisticated layer, so parents love them too," she said. 

Fullenkamp also said that Willems’ characters represent people in all the phases of their lives.

“He's able to capture the mood and feelings of growing up and then how we start to interact with each other," she said. 

Fullenkamp said the exhibit will include Pittsburgh references, but that it’s not directly about the city. That’s because the installation won’t be located here for long – it’s one of the Children’s Museums traveling exhibits that will be rented by other kid-focused venues.

“Actually one of the things we do now at the Children's Museum is we have a program where we design and develop traveling exhibits that travel the country,” she said. “And this is part of our business development initiative, so this contributes to our earned revenue.”

The rental income goes to the Eric Carle Museum and the Children's Museum. The plan is to have the exhibit visit three venues per year over 10 years, and Fullenkamp said this program is growing.

“Right now we have six exhibitions on tour and in the next couple of years we'll have ten," she said. 

The Pigeon Comes to Pittsburgh opens Feb. 17 and runs through Labor Day.