Review: Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator!

Hooray for  Amanda & Her Alligator
Mo Willems
Baltzer + Bray
May 2011

It seems a little silly, honestly, to review a Mo Willems book because of course it’s going to be good! In less than ten years writing and illustrating children’s books, Willems has already published over 30 titles as an author, illustrator, or both, won 3 Caldecott Honors, and, with The Pigeon, created one of the most iconic (and amusing) characters in contemporary children’s literature. So when you hear Mo has a new book out, you pretty much assume it’s going be awesome, and Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator doesn’t disappoint.

At 72 pages but a picture book size, the book is a little outside of both of Willems’ normal genres, traditional picture books and easy readers. In Hooray…, Willems manages to combine the best of both types in six (and a half!) short, interwoven stories about the friendship of Amanda and her alligator. The language is more complex than the Elephant and Piggy or Cat the Cat series, but it’s simple and repetitive enough that young readers will be able to get through the most of the stories on their own. The format and tone are very reminiscent of the James Marshall classic George and Martha. Willems’ dry wit is on display throughout (the titles of Amanda’s library books provide a particularly adult-friendly joke – gems included Whale Songs for Beginners and Climbing Things for Fun and Profit) and he does a great job of balancing the sweet with some unhappier or less pleasant moments.

Willems’ characteristic illustrations are in fine form here. Amanda and her alligator live  in big, blank spaces, but they’re anchored by relevant background details – a bookshelf, toy chest, or doorway – and the watercolor characters standout beautifully against the white pages. I’m always blown away by how much Willems’ can communicate with just a few bold lines, and Hooray… is no exception. Alligator’s face is particularly wonderful; his shifty suspicious eyes had me cracking up.

A wonderful addition to any children’s collection, and a set of friends who, I think, are destined join the ranks of George and Martha and Frog and Toad as some of the most memorable, best-loved friends in children’s liturature. A Best Book of 2011.

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