“They love his books, so that was exciting for them,” says Tecci. Willems, who films from his home, encourages viewers to email him their drawings and ask questions. (Tecci’s children asked: How old are you?) That pigeon episode has since amassed nearly 2 million views, with the following episodes racking up views in the hundreds of thousands.
The language learning benefits of reading aloud aren’t lost on video, either—so, yes, Instagram does count as an educational activity. “It’s a wonderful gift to be able to listen to an author or illustrator read a book that they’ve created,” says Molly Collins, who teaches at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education and researches preschool children’s vocabulary acquisition and inferential thinking during storybook reading. Still, she encourages parents to try not to stick their kids alone with an iPhone and a livestream. “Parents and caregivers at home can listen with their children and then ask questions or talk about the story afterward,” she says.
Then there are the fuzzier benefits. There’s the shared delight over favorite books that, momentarily, eclipses stress and fear. Kids, still adjusting to a new reality sans classmates and playgrounds, can peer into the life of another person who’s stuck at home like them. The scheduled livestreams provide much-needed shape to parents and their children’s newly unstructured hours. Tecci is still figuring out how to fill her children’s schedules—online resources for parents right now, she says, are diffuse and disorganized. She’s unsure of when school will start again, or what’s going to come.
But at least, at around lunchtime every weekday, her kids can look forward to drawing with Mo Willems on YouTube. Willems wears thick, black-rimmed glasses. His voice is quiet and musical. He ends his first episode with an abstract doodle of interconnected lines. “I’m gonna call this doodle ‘We are all connected.’ Because we are,” he says.
Maybe it’s schmaltzy; maybe there’s truth to the schmaltz. But the important part is what he says next: “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
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