As with many picture books, the title gives away the basic point of the book: a bus driver goes on break, abjuring the unseen readers “Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!”
Pigeon appears two ‘frames’ after the bus driver leaves, saying “I thought he’d never leave.” and proceeds to run through a gamut of pleas with the ‘audience’ to allow him to drive the bus: straightforward, promising to be careful, promising to just steer, then veering off into whines: My cousin Herb drives a bus almost every day, you never let me do anything, just once around the block and so on in a pattern familiar to most parents having to set down household rules about things like bike riding or skateboarding…
The book ends with a crestfallen pigeon left behind as the bus driver returns and drives away; does it end here? NO! the last page is of a rejuvenated pigeon calling out to what appears to be a fire truck. (We only see the front bumper and wheelwell.)
This was apparently Willems’ first picture book, though he’d had plenty of experience on Sesame Street previously; it’s good, though fans of his “Knuffle Bunny” trilogy would do well to keep in mind that those three books are very different, both in design and plotting, than the “Pigeon” series, much less the Elephant and Piggie series. Ideal for kids with squirminess, as it’s designed (I think) for the reader to pause every time the pigeon pleads to be allowed to drive the bus. More astute children will recognize the pattern of their own pleading, whether that be a later bed time, dessert, or some other activity as yet forbidden them.
For fans of this book, never fear: Willems has written a series of ‘Pigeon’ books. Formulaic? You betcha. Following the same basic format? Definitely. But then ask any toddler, and they’ll (usually) insist on “Again, again, again! More, more, more!” Multiple books just like the first in the series is a definite selling point to the target age range for Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. If parents have grown weary of that repetitiveness, and the children demanding a “‘tory” can be convinced, there are other books which allow for audience participation, such as Jules Ffeiffer’s Bark, George and Eric Litwin’s Pete the Cat books. Or just ask your friendly children’s library staff; they’ve probably got a selection for just this problem.