Today’s news:

Mo Willems bails on our borough and heads north

The Brooklyn Paper

Ladies and gentlemen, Mo Willems has left the borough.

The beloved kids author and Brooklyn fixture has moved to Massachusetts from Park Slope, the neighborhood that served as his creative font for more than 15 years.

“I’[ve] lived in New York City for 22 years [and Park Slope for 15], and realized I could try something else out,” Willems told The Brooklyn Paper. “So, I thought, why not?”

The Emmy-award-winning “Sesame Street” writer and author of “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale” and “Leonardo, the Terrible Monster,” admitted that Brooklyn was “indubitably” a major factor in his success.

Indeed, when asked to name all the awards he won while he lived in Brooklyn, Willems listed, “Six Emmys, three Caldecott Honors, a Geisel medal, a Carnegie medal, an Audie (for books on tape), multiple State ‘Best Book’ awards, the New York International Children’s Film Festival Grand Prize, and a BAMmy, from BAM.”

When asked to name all the awards he won before he lived in Brooklyn, the Holland native could list only one: “Participation Certificate for middle school choir, 1977.”

The move away from Brooklyn is not without its irony, of course. In books like “Knuffle Bunny” and “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,” Willems reveled in urban life and used Brooklyn as a leitmotif.

Where many children’s books advance a subtle suburban agenda, Willems’s books are slyly urban. Indeed, Park Slope sites such as Grand Army Plaza, PS 107 and Prospect Park were major characters in “Knuffle Bunny” and its sequel, “Knuffle Bunny, Too.”

The departure of Willems is a significant blow to Brooklyn kids, who have become accustomed to his readings at local schools and at the Brooklyn Book Festival.

It has also sent shockwaves through the close-knit, but huge, community of writers of children’s books who call Brooklyn home.

“Shockwaves? Perhaps for Mo,” said Jon “Stinky Cheese Man” Scieszka, who suggested that his own success as an author had led to Willems’s departure.

“You may have noticed that last year, I was named the Ambassador for Children’s Literature by the librarian of Congress — and then Willems leaves town,” Scieszka said. “There clearly was not room for the two of us.”

Scieszka, who also authored “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” and the forthcoming “Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories About Growing up Scieszka,” a memoir, said that Willems was leaving Brooklyn at his own peril.

“He will flounder,” he said. “Frankly, none of us know why he’s doing this.”

Fellow little-person’s author Ted Lewin said he’d miss Willems a little, but miss the author’s Park Slope apartment more.

“He had a great deck,” said Lewin, author of “At Gleason’s Gym” and many books with his wife, Betsy. “So, sure, it’s a blow. But we’ll survive.

“We don’t like to see anyone leave Brooklyn, especially writers with such nice apartments.” (Full disclosure? It was a great apartment.)

Willems apparently appreciated the roasting from his book world pals, saying that in addition to “walkability and history,” he would miss the local “eccentrics.”

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at
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Lauren from Cobble Hill says:
Do they have pigeons in Mass.?
June 20, 2008, Midnight

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