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First Person

Children’s author Mo Willems on his inspiration

The Northampton writer, who will speak at Hubbub on June 20, shares his inspiration for hits like ‘Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!’

Chattman Photography

My dream was to be a syndicated cartoonist. When I was 5, I wrote a letter to Charles Schulz and said, “Can I have your job when you’re dead?”

I learned that I love writing for kids because you don’t have to deal with cultural modifiers. I’m just writing about emotions. I like to say: “Love, jealousy, hatred, wanting to drive a bus — the fundamental, core things.” As I’ve evolved, I’ve started to realize that every book that I write is a philosophical question that I don’t know the answer to. And therefore it interests me. If I know the answer, I won’t make a book out of it.


What I love about picture books is, as a general rule, they are really individual. You get to see the person, and so there’s a much wider diversity of style and input that you can have in picture books than you can, for instance, in television, which makes sense, because television is extraordinarily expensive to produce.

I don’t write my books for children. I write my books for people who have not learned how to be embarrassed yet. By and large, those people are children. My credo on a visual level is that if I draw the book, every character can be reproduced by a 5-year-old that’ll reasonably look like the lead character. My credo for my writing is always think of your audience but never think for your audience.

You don’t have ideas. You grow them. So it’s planting the garden and tending the garden and being patient, just coming back in a year or two years. I’ve got tons and tons of ideas that are in different stages.

SEE HIM Willems headlines Hubbub, a free daylong Boston Book Festival children’s event. His reading starts at 10 a.m. on June 20 in Copley Square. 617-945-9552;


From the Globe Magazine:

‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ author opening a Plainville bookstore