The Pigeon lands at Beinecke, supports New Haven Reads

The North American Dreaming Depot Pigeon, an irascible species that longs to drive buses and inhabits the picture books of best-selling author and illustrator Mo Willems, is nesting in a glass exhibition case at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Pigeon reaches for a hotdog in a limited edition poster on sale through the Beinecke Library of the famous character rendered in the style of John J. Audubon’s “Birds of America.”

A whimsical rendering of Pigeon in the style of John J. Audubon’s “Birds of America” is on display alongside one of Yale’s double-elephant folios of the renowned naturalist and artist’s masterwork.

The poster-sized illustration — created at the library’s request by Willems in collaboration with Brooklyn-based artist and illustrator Scott Sosebee — complements “Happiness: The Writer in the Garden” and “Bird Watching,” exhibits on view at the Beinecke through Aug. 12.   

Copies of the limited-edition poster are for sale, with net profits supporting New Haven Reads, a community resource center dedicated to expanding literacy.

The illustration shows Pigeon perching in a tree while feasting on his favorite prey: chocolate-chip cookies and hotdogs. (The treats sprout from the tree’s branches like apples — the lucky bird. A small drawing of Pigeon in the bottom right corner shows him sleeping, showing that, alas, the hotdog/cookie tree ‘tis but a dream. )

The idea for the illustration originated with Michael Rush, an assistant head of the library’s manuscript unit, who enjoys reading Willems’ work with his three young sons.

“We’re big Mo Willems fans,” he said.

The idea arrived as library staff began discussing how to incorporate Pigeon materials from Willems’ papers, which the Beinecke acquired in 2014, into  “Happiness” and “Bird Watching.” Rush proposed asking Willems to do a drawing of Pigeon in the style of Audubon to display alongside one of the folios, which are on permanent display in the library’s exhibit space.

“Pigeon is the most famous bird in the Beinecke at this point, with the possible exception of the birds in Audubon’s folios,” Rush said.

Timothy Young, the library’s curator of modern books and manuscripts, contacted Willems, who enthusiastically embraced the idea. Young had the thought to make the project into a fundraiser for New Haven Reads, Rush said.

Willems made a rough sketch of the image, but in the interest of having his style better imitate Audubon’s, he collaborated with Sosebee on the final illustration.

“Drawn from Nature by John J. Autobus with assistance of S. Sosebee, Esq.” reads a credit at the bottom left of the poster. 

Willems specified that Pigeon’s species be named the North American Dreaming Depot Pigeon, Rush said. (The Latin scientific name is Columba domestica somnians willemsenis.)

“I love it,” Rush said of the poster. “We have one hanging in my boys’ room. I still get a tremendous thrill looking at it.”

Michael Rush, an assistant head of the Beinecke’s manuscript unit, had the idea to let Mo Willems’ Pigeon assume his rightful place beside Audubon’s “Birds of America” at the Beinecke Library. (Photo by Mara Lavitt.)

Pigeon burst onto the children’s literary scene in 2004’s “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” in which he unsuccessfully tries to tempt, cajole, and coerce the reader into letting him drive a bus against the express instructions of the bus driver, who is on a break.  The best-selling picture book was awarded a Caldecott Honor, and its feisty protagonist has starred in seven titles, including “The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!” and “The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?”

The New York Times Book Review has placed Pigeon in “the pantheon of great picture book characters.” He has made cameo appearances in Willems’ other works – often showing up in the end papers of the author’s popular “Elephant and Piggie” series and his award-wining “Knuffle Bunny” books.

English, Chinese, Arabic, Dutch, and Korean editions of “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” are on display in “Bird Watching.” Pigeon has a cameo in “Happiness” — a plush version of the character can be seen posing inside the library’s glass stack tower on the ground floor.

The Audubon folio arranged beside the Pigeon poster is currently opened to the white-crowned pigeon, a male and female of which perch on a branch sprouting orange flower blossoms, not hotdogs.

The limited edition poster measures 22.5” by 29” and is available for $20 plus tax, shipping, and handling to addresses in the United States. To purchase, visit the library’s website.  

“Happiness” and “Bird Watching” are on view through Aug. 12. The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is located at 121 Wall St. in New Haven. The library’sexhibitions are always free and open to all, Monday, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m.–7 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Saturday, noon-5 p.m.; Sunday noon-4 p.m.

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