How Children Are Learning and Laughing at the Children’s Museum

“The Pigeon Comes to Pittsburgh!” has made its way around the country and is back at the Children’s Museum.
Pigeon Library Road Jan22


You can’t let the pigeon drive the bus, but you can let him come back to Pittsburgh.

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh this month welcomes the return of “The Pigeon Comes to Pittsburgh!”, a traveling exhibit dedicated to the work of author and illustrator Mo Willems. Based on his popular picture books “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” and the “Elephant and Piggie” series, the exhibit features all of Willems’ beloved characters and runs from Jan. 22 through May 8.

“The exhibit was very popular,” says Rachel Mastromarino, the museum’s director of business development who oversees the tour of the exhibit, which was designed in Pittsburgh in 2018. “It’s probably seen over 800,000 visitors throughout [North America]. That’s a nice thing to say about something we created here in Pittsburgh … and now we get to bring it back.”

Favorite attractions include a photo op with a life-size bus, a fashion show with Naked Mole Rat, a laundromat for Knuffle Bunny and a hot dog launcher where kids can shoot a toy hot dog to the Pigeon or Duckling from the book, “The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!”

“That gets people really excited,” Mastromarino says. “There’s something for every visitor.”

There’s also an Elephant and Piggie phone booth, where people stand on either side and speak into a device that changes the sound of their voice to that of the characters.

“You can basically embody the character and talk to your friend in the same voice. It’s really fun,” says Mastromarino. “Another big area would be the art studio so you can draw just like Mo Willems.”

1527 20180217 Rosensteel 0045Willems’ characters are basically constructed from simple shapes, she notes.

“It was something we learned through general conversations [with Mo]: any kid can draw Elephant, any kid can draw Piggie. Just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean you can’t learn those skills.”

Children can use simple shapes such as the “M-oval” — Mo’s oval — on a light table to practice tracing their favorite characters. They can also draw word bubbles to give Pigeon things to say, and there are giant display walls to hang their final products.

The exhibit provides lots of fun, of course, but children learn through play, and there are numerous opportunities for subtle education. One theme throughout Willems’ work, Mastromarino explains, is that all of his characters have rich emotional lives.

180425 Childrensmuseum Pigeon 087“Elephant and Piggie is all about friendship, and Pigeon is all about expression through loud words,” she says. “Mole Rat expresses itself through clothing and things of that nature. We’re hoping visitors are engaging in all of these different ways through play, hands-on things, art-making, reading books and then learning about these characters and some of their bigger, deeper meanings behind them.”

Not to be left out is the importance of humor, she says.

“One of the things that’s so great about Mo’s books — and the exhibit — is laughter,” she says. There are also prints of illustrations by the author, including sketches and other materials, for all ages to enjoy.

“The exhibit is really intended to just bring to life some of Mo’s most popular picture books,” Mastromarino says.

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
10 Children’s Way, North Side
Jan. 22-May 8

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