Whistle for Willie

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Whistle for Willie Book Poster Image
In charming classic, a boy learns to whistle for his pup.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Letters and numbers and simple words (cat, me) pictured as graffiti on wall. To learn to whistle, purse lips and blow.

Positive Messages

If you keep trying to do something, you can succeed. You can always find things to play and investigate and enjoy in life. You can learn things from older kids and parents.

Positive Role Models & Representations

When Peter wants to learn to whistle, he keeps practicing until he succeeds. His parents are proud and supportive of his accomplishments, and play along with the pretend games he enjoys.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats was first published in 1964 as a follow up to his Caldecott-winning The Snowy Day. These books featuring a young African-American boy were groundbreaking, and paved the way for more diverse characters in kids' books. In this sweet story about a boy and his dog -- and mastering the tricky art of whistling -- Keats nails the child's point of view so skillfully that the book feels as fresh and charming as it did when it was first published. You can’t go wrong with Whistle for Willie, an asset to any child’s library.

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What's the story?

In WHISTLE FOR WILLIE, when Peter sees an older boy whistling for his dog, he wants to learn to whistle too. He tries whistling for his dachshund, Willie, but can't make a sound. Peter continues to practice as he walks home, and while wearing his dad's hat ("to feel more grown-up"), then goes back out and spies Willie around a corner. This time when he blows, "out came a real whistle!" and Willie races to him. Peter runs home proudly to show his mom and dad, then heads off on an errand, whistling all the way.


Is it any good?

They don't make kids' books any better than this Ezra Jack Keats' classic that celebrates childhood and play, and continues to charm new generations of readers. When Whistle for Willie was first published in 1964, few books featured African-American characters. Keats himself was born to struggling immigrant white Jewish parents, grew up poor in tenement Brooklyn, and is able to peer through Peter's eyes to show us an urban neighborhood full of found wonder. A curious cat peers out a barbershop window. Two girls -- one black, one white -- share a jump rope. Graffiti's pictured as stenciled stars, arrows, numbers, and letters spelling out the simple words "cat" and "me." If play's the work of the child, Peter's an expert, spinning till he's dizzy, hiding in boxes from his dog, and drawing a chalk line everywhere he walks. There's also touching sweetness when he tries on his dad's hat and pretends to be his dad while his mom plays along.

Keats' art was also innovative, using colorful mixed-media collage with patterned, marbled, and textured papers. When Peter triumphantly shows his parents he can whistle, Keats fills the page with Peter's proud, joyful face. Young readers will see themselves in this playful and persistent protagonist, and enjoy this timeless story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Peter learns to whistle in Whistle for Willie. Can you whistle? How does Peter eventually learn?

  • How many ways does Peter find to play and explore things in his neighborhood and at home?

  • Can you find parts of the art that you think were made using collage? Do you think the artist used real pieces of wallpaper?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and stories featuring characters of color

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