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Literature / Elephant & Piggie

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Gerald is careful. Piggie is not.
Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can.
Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to.

Gerald and Piggie are best friends.

Elephant & Piggie is a series of children's books for early readers. They are written and drawn by Mo Willems (best known for Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and the Cartoon Network series Sheep in the Big City), and debuted in 2007.

The books center on two Funny Animal friends, Gerald the elephant and Piggie the pig. Each book tends to center on everyday activities, often addressing issues of friendship along the way. While Gerald is a down-to-earth realist, Piggie is an eternal optimist, and the difference between the two personalities often drives the dialog.

The books have won the Geisel Medal in 2008 and 2009, and have been listed twice on Time magazine's Top 10 Children's Books of the Year.

The popularity of the series has resulted in a traveling stage production beginning in 2013: "We Are in a Play!" The play is based on material from several of the books.


Although the series apparently ended in 2016 with The Thank You Book, Elephant & Piggie have gone on to appear in a series titled Elephant and Piggie Like Reading! These new titles are illustrated by Willems but authored by others. The idea is that the Elephant & Piggie characters are presented as Book-Ends, appearing at the beginning to say how great the story is going to be, and then gushing about the story after the ending.


Elephant and Piggie books with their own page:

Other books in the series demonstrate the following tropes:

  • Accidental Art: In "Elephants Cannot Dance", Gerald's frustrated tantrum at his failure to learn how to dance is interpreted by a pair of passing squirrels as a hot new dance move, "The Elephant."
  • An Aesop: Once per book, though usually in a very subtle way.
  • All There in the Manual: Done in-story in "Elephants Cannot Dance". When Piggie tries to teach Gerald to dance, he quotes from "What Elephants Can Do", pointing out the clause that says elephants can't dance.
  • Animals Not to Scale: A real elephant would be five times the size of a real pig.
  • Aren't You Forgetting Someone?: This is the essential premise of The Thank You Book. Piggie is thanking as many people as possible, but Gerald is convinced that there's someone she's forgetting to thank. It initially seems that Gerald is the one Piggie is forgetting, but Gerald was actually referring to the reader.
  • Argument of Contradictions: In "I'm a Frog!", Gerald and Piggie get into one of these when Piggie asks Gerald if he, too, wants to be a frog and Gerald replies "I cannot." They go back-and-forth with "No, I can't! "Yes, you can!" a total of six times, before Gerald shouts "No! I CAN'T!" and Piggie decides to ask Gerald just why it is he can't pretend to be a frog. The punchline? "Because I am a cow. Moooooooooooo!"
  • Aside Glance: The characters occasionally do this, like Piggie giving a sly sidelong look to the audience in "I'm a Frog!" when she tells Gerald that even grown-ups pretend and they do it "all the time".
  • Back for the Finale: The last book in the series, The Thank You Book, features appearances from all of the characters who have appeared over the course of the previous books.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Piggie asks Gerald how he broke his trunk, Gerald proceeds to tell her a story about how he balanced three other large mammals and a piano on his trunk. He then went to tell Piggie about it, but tripped and fell.
  • Big "NO!"/Big Word Shout: Often from Gerald, but sometimes from Piggie too, like in "Can I Play Too?", in which Piggie refuses to accept that their new friend Snake can't play catch with them.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Each of the books usually has at least one moment per book where Piggie looks directly at the reader and snarks a bit. Additionally, in The Thank You Book, Gerald is concerned that Piggie is forgetting to thank someone. It seems to become fairly obvious that the person Piggie is forgetting to thank is Gerald himself, the twist is that Piggie is forgetting to thank the reader(s). So they both do.
  • Brick Joke: Very commonly, per book.
  • Broken Treasure: A variation occurs in "I Love My New Toy!" Piggie is madly in love with a strange new toy she's received; when Gerald throws and breaks it, Piggie becomes furious. The crisis is averted when a passerby identifies it as a "break-it-fix-it toy" that's intended to be repeatedly broken and mended... and then gets subverted when Gerald and Piggie decide to play together instead, ignoring the toy.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: A recurring characteristic of Gerald and Piggie's dynamic. It also forms the plot of "My Friend Is Sad".
  • The Cloud Cuckoolander Was Right: See the first example under Crazy-Prepared below.
  • Continuity Porn: "The Thank You Book" has Piggie thanking every character who ever appeared in an Elephant and Piggie book. Brian Bat, the cat doctor, the worms from "Are You Ready to Play Outside?"...everyone.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    • Invoked in "I Am Invited to a Party!" when Piggie receives a party invitation and asks Gerald to accompany her. Worried that it might be a fancy pool costume party, Gerald convinces Piggie to attend in fancy evening wear, snorkling gear, and a costume. He's right.
    Gerald: What if it's a costume party?
    Piggie: A fancy pool costume party?
    Gerald: WE MUST BE READY!
    • In "Let's Go for a Drive!", after hitting on the idea of going for a drive, Gerald decides that they need 1) a map to find out the way, 2) sunglasses if it's too sunny, 3) umbrellas if it rains, 4) bags for their stuff, and finally 5) a car. Their preparations come to naught when they realize they don't have a car, so they play pirate instead.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: In "Listen to My Trumpet!", when Piggie asks Gerald what he thought about her trumpet-playing, he tactfully says that her trumpet is loud and shiny and that she holds it very well.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": Piggie is, of course, a pig. There are also characters named Snake, Brian Bat, and Doctor Cat — no points for guessing which animals these characters are.
  • Dreadful Musician: Piggie in "Listen to My Trumpet". Gerald cringes throughout her entire performance and the most positive thing he can say about it is that she holds her trumpet well. However, it's subverted when Piggie explains that she wasn't trying to make music but trying to make elephant trumpeting sounds like Gerald's.
  • Dream-Crushing Handicap: Played straight, subverted, and double-subverted in "Can I Play Too?". Played straight when Gerald and Piggie are playing catch and a snake optimistically asks to join them, despite his lack of arms or hands. Subverted when — after several painful failures — the snake finally concedes he isn't physically capable of playing catch. Double-subverted when Piggie has the idea to throw the snake between herself and Gerald, thus "playing catch" with him.
  • Excited Show Title!: Many of the book titles.
  • Eye Glasses: As the illustration shows, Gerald is a typical example. His glasses will get bigger and smaller according to his mood.
  • Facepalm: In the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! book Harold & Hog PRETEND FOR REAL!, Hog double facepalms after Harold says that he is going to be careful while smiling and dancing and flying, pointing out that Gerald would never smile and dance and fly all at the same time.
  • Foreign Queasine: "I Really Like Slop!" is about Piggie really, really liking slop—and how horrified Gerald is when Piggie asks him to try it.
  • Genki Girl: Piggie.
  • Gentle Giant: In "A Big Guy Took My Ball!", Gerald sets out to retrieve the ball from the "big guy" who took it from Piggie, only to find out to his shock that the "big guy" is a gigantic blue whale. The whale is sad, because he's so big that no one will play with him.
    Big Guy: Little guys have all the fun.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: "Elephants Cannot Dance" has the hardcover book "What Elephants Can Do".
  • Heroic Vow: In "Can I Play Too?", Piggie insists on finding a way for the snake to play catch with them.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl
  • I Can't Dance: Gerald, as seen in "Elephants Cannot Dance".
  • I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham: In "I Really Like Slop!", Gerald really doesn't want to taste the slop Piggie loves but he eventually caves. Subverted in that he hates the slop's taste, but he tells Piggie that it was still worth trying it out because it was something she loved.
  • Idea Bulb: Piggie gets one in Can I Play Too? when she and Gerald are trying to figure out how their new friend, a snake, wants to play catch. Naturally, since this is a hip, modern series, it's a CFL.
  • Ironic Echo
  • It's a Long Story: Gerald tells Piggie this in I Broke My Trunk! when asked about how he broke his trunk. The book ends with Piggie telling another friend the exact same line after she breaks her own snout in a manner similar to Gerald's.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: Piggie plays this role from time to time.
  • Loophole Abuse: Invoked in "Can I Play Too?"; when Gerald and Piggie are playing catch, a snake asks to join them, despite his lack of appendages. Gerald and Piggie end up throwing the snake between them.
    "I love playing catch with my friends!"
    • Also occurs in "Elephants Cannot Dance," when Piggie notes that Gerald's book of "Things Elephants Can Do" doesn't bar him from trying to dance.
  • The Moving Experience: "I Am Going!" features Piggie declaring just that, and Gerald taking it to mean that she's moving away and start panicking. Who will he skip with, play Ping-Pong with and wear silly hats with? When Piggie is finally able to get a word in edgewise, she explains that she's just going to lunch.
  • New Friend Envy: The plot of "My New Friend is So Fun!". Gerald and Snake are initially thrilled that their respective best friends Piggie and Brian Bat are getting along so well, until they begin fearing that they may be having more fun together than with them. Their fears are alleviated when Piggie and Brian Bat show them that they drew "best friend" pictures of them.
  • Non-Ironic Clown: One of the things Piggie tries to do to cheer Gerald up in "My Friend Is Sad" is to dress up as a funny clown.
  • Only Sane Man: Gerald often sees himself as this.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Gerald and Piggie.
  • Plucky Girl: Piggie often falls into this role, especially if Gerald tells her something she tries to do is impossible.
    Gerald: "You will not fly today. You will not fly tomorrow. You will not fly next week. YOU WILL NEVER FLY!"
    Piggie: "I will try."
  • Punny Name: Word of God is that Gerald the elephant is named after Ella Fitzgerald.
  • Rain, Rain, Go Away: Drives the plot in "Are You Ready to Play Outside?"
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Piggie is red to Gerald's blue.
  • Serious Business: Sometimes Gerald gets very serious over everyday events, such as attending a party ("I Am Invited to a Party!") or throwing balls ("Watch Me Throw The Ball!").
    "I worked very hard to learn how to throw a ball."
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Occurs in "I Broke My Trunk!" Gerald broke his trunk not from lifting three heavy animals (and a piano) with his trunk, but because he tripped when he rushed to tell Piggie what he had done.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The inside covers of each book feature a repeating pattern related to the story at hand; the pattern inside the back cover always includes a cameo by the Pigeon from Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive The Bus! series. Additionally, the one in Pigs Make Me Sneeze! shows Piggie clutching a Knuffle Bunny for comfort because she caught Gerald's cold. In The Thank You Book, Piggie thanks the Pigeon for never giving up and apologizes to him for not getting to be in her and Gerald's books. To this, Pigeon gives an aside to the reader, "That is what you think."
    • Gerald's full name is given as Elephant Gerald in The Thank You Book.
  • Significant Background Event: Over the pages of "Waiting Is Not Easy!", the White Void Room background grows darker, very slowly at first, until it's quite dark by the end of the book. This sets up The Reveal when Piggie shows the night sky to Gerald.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Done sometimes by Piggie for comedic purposes — such as the time she threw a ball that landed behind her, then concluded that it must've landed there because she threw the ball around the world.
  • Sneeze Interruption: In "Pigs Make Me Sneeze", Gerald sneezes in the middle of saying, "I want a..." and Piggie tries to find out what he wants. We never find out what Gerald wanted.
  • Speech Bubbles: In "Waiting Is Not Easy!", Gerald keeps saying "GROOOOOOOOOOOAN" as he loses patience waiting for Piggie's big surprise. Piggie is repeatedly squashed by the giant speech bubbles.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: After Gerald gets exasperated with two birds building a nest on his head and hatching three chicks in "There Is a Bird on Your Head!", Piggie suggests that he could just politely ask the birds to nest somewhere else. It works.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics:
    • In "I Broke My Trunk!" Hippo's sister shows up. Hippo's sister is marked as a girl by having big round eyes (Hippo's eyes are dots) and eyelashes, and she is wearing a bow.
    • Averted by Piggie herself.
  • Thanking the Viewer: "The Thank You Book" ends, after Piggie has thanked every character to ever appear in the books, with Piggie thanking the reader.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: Piggie's reaction when Gerald breaks her new toy in "I Love My New Toy!". "That makes me...MAD!".
  • Visible Silence: Gerald has the typical word balloon with three ellipses in it when Piggie asks him if he got the ball back in "A Big Guy Took My Ball!". He didn't get it back because the big guy is a blue whale.
  • What You Are in the Dark: In "Should I Share My Ice Cream?", Gerald gets some ice cream while Piggie is off somewhere else. Gerald spends the whole book debating whether to eat all the ice cream before Piggie comes back. He finally decides he will share his ice cream with Piggie, only to realize that all his ice cream has melted. Piggie finally shows up with her own ice cream, which she shares with Gerald.


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