Don't underestimate the power of doodling. In a democracy, Mo Willems says, "voting is a lot like doodling. It's a form of self-expression, and you discover sort of who you really are as you do it." On Election Day (7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT) on the Kennedy Center's website, Willems will encourage self-expression for anyone who tunes in to Democracy Doodle 2020, regardless of age or political persuasion.
Willems says they'll do three drawing exercises, each accompanied by a different musician from the National Symphony Orchestra. As the Kennedy Center's education artist-in-residence, Willems has been encouraging kids to take regular doodle breaks since the early days of the pandemic.
In a video series called Lunch Doodles With Mo Willems!, he held guided drawing sessions from his studio. He sits at a table, pulls out a blank sheet of paper, selects a marker and starts doodling, encouraging children at home to do the same.
With his oddball sense of humor, Willems calmly answers kids' questions and talks about his career as an animator and writer for Sesame Street and creating The Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie books. Lunch Doodles has been so popular, Willems followed it up with similar series: Thank You Thursdays, The Yo-Yo Mo Show with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and, most recently, The Small Works Project.
"I tend to think of my books as questions I don't know the answers to and these videos are sort of me reflecting," Willems said in an interview. "I'm going to be anxious on Nov. 3. And I know that they're going to be a lot of families and kids learning new vocabulary words, while parents are yelling at the screens. And I thought, you know, 'I could use a break, and if I could use a break, then maybe other people could as well.' "
Willems says he's prepared three "really simple exercises for us all to do together and to share while we listen to this music being performed." The National Symphony Orchestra musicians — Mahoko Eguchi (viola), Abel Pereira (horn) and Jamie Roberts (oboe) — have each selected a piece of "music to doodle to." The pieces aren't necessarily traditional patriotic music intended to celebrate democracy.
For Willems, "Any time we express ourselves, that's a form of patriotism." Just like voting.
Willems hopes the 20-minute, election night doodle session will be cathartic for everyone, himself included. He says, like so many others, he's "muddling through these years, these months. I'm doing my best." But he adds, "My battery is running at 20%."
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
All right. So a lot of people tonight are going to be anxiously awaiting for some election results to come in. You know what might help ease that anxiety? Doodling, seriously. Children's book author Mo Willems is the master of this particular art form. He did these virtual doodling lessons for kids early in the pandemic, and now he is coming to the rescue again. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: You might know Mo Willems from his charming oddball children's books like "Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!" He's also the Kennedy Center's education artist in residence. When the pandemic hit, Willems started a video series called "Lunch Doodles," where he guides kids through drawing exercises.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MO WILLEMS: You're going to need some paper, crayons or a pen or a marker, so that we can just sort of do this together.
BLAIR: These videos have been watched millions of times, but Willems says he does them as much for himself to keep his own spirits up as for the kids watching. And he says tonight, he'll really need to doodle.
WILLEMS: These videos are sort of me reflecting. Like, I'm going to be anxious, and I thought, you know, I could use a break. And if I could use a break, then maybe other people could as well.
BLAIR: With help from the National Symphony Orchestra, he's calling it "Democracy Doodle 2020."
WILLEMS: We're going to do three exercises that are going to be accompanied by musicians. We have a violist...
(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLA)
WILLEMS: ...An oboist....
(SOUNDBITE OF OBOE)
WILLEMS: ...And I guess you would call it a French hornist. I don't think that that's the actual term, but I'm now saying French hornist.
BLAIR: There's no right or wrong in a Mo Willems doodle session.
(SOUNDBITE OF FRENCH HORN)
BLAIR: Willems' lunch doodles videos have been used by teachers, caregivers and libraries. Fans have sent him examples of their work. He says he's heartened they're taking pride in their illustrations.
WILLEMS: Drawing and doodling and writing are one of the few things that a kid can do for real. You know, a kid can want to be an astronaut, but a kid cannot astronaut. But a kid can be an author and illustrator just by putting pen to paper.
BLAIR: Most of the authors and illustrators who doodle along with Willems tonight probably aren't old enough to vote, but he says they will be exercising their rights.
WILLEMS: Voting is a lot like doodling. It's a form of self-expression, and you discover sort of who you really are as you do it.
BLAIR: "Democracy Doodle 2020" will be on the Kennedy Center's website for anyone of any age or political persuasion. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF CRAFT SPELLS SONG, "KOMOREBI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.