Mo Willems is taking Knuffle Bunny across America -- and bringing back pandemic hit Doodles series

Willems reveals his latest project, and speaks about what it means to tell playful and creative stories to both children and parents!
Mo Willems Presents "Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Underground Rock Experience" Premiere
Mo Willems Presents "Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Underground Rock Experience" Premiere / Vivien Killilea/GettyImages

Need your Mo Willems fix? Then we've got great news. Not only is Mo Willems Workshop's short-form series Snack Doodles now available to watch on the Mo Willems Workshop YouTube channel with new episodes dropping regularly, but new episodes of Knuffle Bunny Across America just debuted on Sundays starting on Apr. 7, aka yesterday!

If you don't know (though you probably do) Willems is known for authoring and illustrating the popular children's picture books Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale. His background as a stand-up comedian informs the work that he does now as a prominent author, creator, and animator. Knuffle Bunny Across America is executive produced by Hidden Pigeon Company with production by Small Army.

The Parent Watch spoke with Willems as he discussed why he created two new short-form series, and what it means to tell stories to kids. He also dropped details about Mo Willems and The Storytime All-Stars: Live at SF Sketchfest! which features celebrity comedians such as W. Kamau Bell, Joe Lo Truglio, and more!

The Parent Watch: You're a very prolific children's author and illustrator. With Snack Doodles, you are continuing to speak to children of all generations. What about sharing the joys of childhood interests you the most?

Mo Willems: Oh, I don't think I'm sharing the joys of childhood. I think I'm giving adults an opportunity to be empathetic about the difficulties of childhood. Childhood is an inherently difficult time. You have no power. You have no representation. All the furniture is built to be not your size. The rooms are telling you, “You don't belong here.” When things don't go your way and you are confused and scared, you are told to be quiet, or you are told that you're having a temper tantrum rather than trying to communicate. I hope to enable joy amongst children and former children.

The first episode just came out of Snack Doodles, following the success of Lunch Doodles. What sparked your interest in doing more of a short-form series?

When we did Lunch Doodles, it was a reaction to the pandemic suddenly being taken seriously and everything being shut down. It was a terrible time. We learned a couple of things, and one of them was being creative is a form of expression that helps. Science got us out of this pandemic, but it was art that got us through. While we're now in a different phase of our culture where things are opened up again, I don't want to forget this idea that being creative - that doodling - brings us together [and] allows us to express ourselves in ways that we hadn't before.

It's also something that's cross-generational. There's no such thing as a wrong doodle. Nobody can get a doodle wrong. Kids inherently love to doodle. They love the opportunity to doodle. Grownups sometimes squash that by not doodling themselves. Parents forget how cool they are. They are the coolest people in the world. If they tell a kid, “Hey, you should draw,” and the parents don't draw, then drawing isn't cool, but if the parents are drawing, it's really cool because the parents are cool.

What I was hoping to do with Snack Doodles was have these exercises, these opportunities, to play together, and to create. When you're drawing, it's a physicalized form of empathy. You're making something. You are being empathetic to it. “I'm making a thing, and it's a banana. Oh, I like bananas! Oh, and it's a banana with a cape! Oh, it's a super banana, I love super bananas! Oh, where does it live? It lives in a cave. I love caves!” Just by doodling and drawing, you become more empathetic. Those are the highfalutin’ reasons. The lowfalutin’ reason is just, it's fun! Take a break, grab a piece of paper. Let's make your drawing.

I watched "Draw a Doodle with the Letter A!" and I absolutely loved it. What are your thoughts on crafting each episode?

Well, we are doing the entire alphabet, that includes the vowels - we want to be very inclusive. Then we're going to do numbers. We're going to do all 31 numbers, so you could have a number every day of the month. You could do the number of the date of your birthday! And then we're going to do the number 100. That's a lot to do. Part of the reason for that, besides talking about letters and numbers - which is fun - is often when you're starting out, you say, “I don't know what to draw.” If we say, “Oh, why don't you try this letter and then play with it?” It gives kids an opportunity. It gives them something to hold on to so that they can play.

I wanted to ask a little bit more about the new Knuffle Bunny Across America YouTube series. I know it's going to be like a day in the life format. What inspired you to get into that aspect of storytelling for Knuffle Bunny?

Well, I think it's really interesting. When you get a spotlight, you're very lucky, and it takes a long time to get that spotlight. You realize somebody is operating that spotlight, and you have an opportunity to broaden that spotlight. So the idea of a beloved stuffed animal being in different places is a really exciting way to expand the books and think about how kids all over the country, and hopefully eventually all over the world, live.

Some of these kids are remarkable kids from the outside, or what grownups would call “remarkable.” They have special skills. Some of these kids are merely remarkable for who they are, but they all are willing and happy to be attached to this bunny for a little while. So I love the idea of kids not having to learn and grow, but the bunny gets to learn and grow as the bunny is brought from house to house to house. It's also about just letting go. We don't know what these kids are going to do with this bunny. We don't know what their day is like. So that in and of itself is exciting.

Where is Knuffle Bunny? Image courtesy Hidden Pigeon Company and Brenna Landrum /

At The Parent Watch, we're really focused on making sure that there's programming that parents and kids can fully enjoy together. And it's ingrained in your ethos that this is for former kids and current kids. Specifically, with Knuffle Bunny Across America, what can parents get out of this as well when watching with their children?

Well, first of all, there are all these different ways to live so that's cool. I always want my books not to be read, but to be played. Let's say you watch an adventure of a kid in Hawaii spending the day with Knuffle Bunny. Then you can say, “Well, what do I do every day? How do I have breakfast? How do I have lunch? Where do I go? Who are my friends? What excites me?” They [children] can make their own little films with whatever their love is. Everything that we're doing has an element of format to it, and the reason is to make it inclusive. To say and not to tell a kid or a grown-up, “Hey, go do that,” but just for them to realize, “Oh, I could do that.”

This is the same thing as with [the book series] Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. That character is simply drawn so the kid can say, “I can make my own book, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Firetruck. Now I am an author. Now I am an illustrator.” So if you see a Knuffle Bunny film and you're really jazzed by it, then you can make a film. Now you are a documentarian. It's very exciting.

I love how you inspire creativity and just overall inspire other people as well. 

If we are talking about all the new YouTube stuff, we also did a comedy show in San Francisco with Dulcé Sloan, Al Yankovic, and a bunch of guys from The State. I'm excited about Mo Willems and The Storytime All-Stars: Live at SF Sketchfest! because it shows another version of all these comedians who are famous to grownups. The job [of this movie] is to give grownups a “shamectomy” and show them how to read with verve and vigor and silliness. I'm excited about that as well!

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

You can watch new episodes of Snack Doodles and Knuffle Bunny Across America on the Mo Willems Workshop YouTube channel.

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