That Mo Willems, At It Again

Elizabeth Bluemle -- November 20th, 2015

A while ago, I wrote about my favorite, lesser-known Mo Willems picture book, Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator! which is just perfection, and now I cannot help myself from writing about yet another pitch-perfect Willems book — this one done with irresistible art by Tony DiTerlizzi — The Story of Diva and Flea.

A very small dog, Diva, and a very large cat, Flea, live nearly opposite Parisian lives. Diva stays in her protected courtyard, while free-spirited Flea wanders, with no home or predictable meals to call his own, but with an adventurous spirit and many stories to share. One day, Flea spies Diva in her courtyard and is immediately taken with the tiny dog. He pokes his head through the gate — and thus begins a great friendship. Because of this meeting, their lives comically overturn as each bravely experiences the strange world of the other.

I’ll share a tidbit with you. Early on, after Flea has told Diva one of his many exciting stories (this one about “‘The Store Where the Man Roasts Whole Chickens and Could Learn a Thing or Two About Sharing’), Flea says,

“Well, time for me to go.”

“Where will you go when you go?” asked Diva curiously.

“Where won’t I go when I go where I go!” replied Flea proudly.

“How am I supposed to know where you won’t go when you go, when I don’t know where you do go when you go?” asked Diva.

By now, their little-dog and big-cat brains were very confused.

Unsure of what to do next, Diva thought of yelling “FEET!” and running away, but there were no feet anywhere to be seen. So, Diva just stood there.

“You should join me one day!” Flea said suddenly. “You could be a flâneur like me.”

“What is a flâneur?” asked Diva, worried that it might be a type of mouse catcher.

Flea explained that a flâneur is someone (or somecat, or maybe even somedog) who wanders the streets and bridges and alleys of the city just to see what there is to see….

It’s an utterly charming tour de force, illustrated throughout with DiTerlizzi’s expressive, humorous, fine-lined ink drawings. This book is so warm-hearted and clever! Like Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky’s endearing Toys Go Out, it is a little gem, a small modern classic that will never go out of date.

Frankly, it’s a little annoying how easy Mo W. makes it look to create timeless, funny, lovable, endlessly child-appealing books using language that seems so simple but is brimming with life and verve and big big heart. (He and Cynthia Rylant. And Kate DiCamillo.) “Annoying” here meaning: so, so wonderful.

Readers, what are your picks for modern classics?

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