Willems: That’s a tough question. Besides dumb luck, I’m not sure. I do have a couple of rules that I place for myself in my books. The first is a mantra, which is: Always think of your audience, but never think for your audience. What that means is to leave it open to interpretation. I’m not telling things, I’m asking questions. And I’m asking questions that I don’t necessarily have the answers to. The other formal thing that I do is that I make sure that the characters in my books — in this (‘That Is Not a Good Idea!’) case, the chicks in particular — are characters that a 4- or a 5-year-old can draw: infringe on my copyright with great ease. So a lot of my design work is reductive. I make drawings, then I try to take as many lines out, so that it’s at its easiest to copy.
Every book is a question I don’t know the answer to. I figure if it’s a good question, then it’s a universal question. I don’t want my books to be read, I want them to be played. The idea is that you’re engendering creativity. Reading is great but it is ultimately a form of consumption. What I want is after they read the book, for a kid to say, “I’ve got an idea: Don’t Let the Pigeon…operate the catapult, Don’t Let the Pigeon…audit my neighbor.” And then they go out and infringe on my copyright and they make their own stories. And that’s awesome.