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Kepler's crowd wants some Mo (Willems)

Original post made by Andrea Gemmet, Almanac staff writer, on Oct 3, 2007

Forget hip-hop concerts. For really difficult crowd-control jobs, try a busy bookstore crammed with dozens of squirrely little kids and their doting parents. Think about it. If some jerk starts acting up at a concert, you send a burly security guard to threaten to kick the guy out.

If, on the other hand, you are dealing with a sugar-crazed three-year old clutching a blankie, your options are a little more limited.

I don't know if the staff at Kepler's in Menlo Park gets special compensation for working the kiddie author events, but they ought to, if the scene at the Sept. 21 pajama-party story time is in any way typical.

The Kepler's crew deftly handled a restive crowd of wriggling preschoolers waiting for best-selling author/illustrator Mo Willems to arrive and read from his newest book, a sequel called "Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity." Kids jostled for space on a couple of carpets spread out in front of a microphone, tugged at the blue velvet curtains, whapped each other with stuffed animals and generally, behaved like a bunch of bored kids waiting for something to happen.

I was there with my family, because as far as I'm concerned, Mo Willems is a rock star. Any guy who can write a book that stands up to 200 readings without making me crazy deserves an award. (Like, say, the Caldecott medals he got for "Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale" and "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.") Judging by the starry-eyed looks on other parents' faces, I wasn't alone. I just wish all of my daughter's favorite books were Mo Willems books.

There's always a danger that someone who's great in print will fall flat in person. Mo Willems didn't disappoint. He immediately won over the crowd by introducing himself as an astronaut, then a popcorn salesman and finally, as a corporate attorney specializing in tax affairs. "Noooooo!" delighted children shrieked after each wrong answer.

The suddenly tractable kids listened raptly as he read three of his books and fielded their questions, before sitting down to sign books with a sketch of Knuffle Bunny.

As he does in his books, Willems engaged the children while peppering his delivery with amusing asides for the parents. When a little girl asked if there would be a third Knuffle Bunny book, Willems said, "I think that's a question for my daughter's periodontist and orthodontist."

You can read more about Mo Willems on his Web site, Web Link . For upcoming author events at Kepler's, go to Web Link .

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