KEEP reading and stay out of jail.

That’s the message from American author and animator Mo Willems, who has backed the Oxfordshire Reading Campaign.

Mr Willems, 45, whose most well-known tale Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus! was conceived in Oxford, spoke about the importance of reading during a visit to the city.

At the Story Museum, the writer met children, read passages from his books and hosted a workshop to help others learn to draw his characters.

He said having access to books was one of the most important things for young people.

He said: “I always say that if a kid has a book in their home it dramatically increases their chances of success, but also their chances of not going to jail.

“One of the most important indicators of future success is whether or not someone has a book in their home.”

Mr Willems started his career on the children’s TV show Sesame Street in the 1990s and worked for it over nine seasons until 2002.

He also created two animated series, Nickelodeon’s The Off-Beats and Cartoon Network’s Sheep in the Big City.

His debut book Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus! was a New York Times Bestseller on release and was awarded a Caldecott Honor in 2004.

He said it did not matter how hard the books were to read, any text could make a difference for children’s futures.

He said: “A lot of my books are really easy readers targeted at young people.

The stories that engage them the most are the ones that make them play, and that’s so important.

“I have found that the most successful stories are the ones that afterwards they go and make their own adventures with the characters.”

After reading to children, he revealed that the inspiration for his first book came when he spent a summer in Oxford.

He said: “We came here in the summer in 1999. I thought it would make me smarter but in fact I think it just made me more hung over.

“That’s when I got the idea for the character in Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!”

Mr Willems, who lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, did not say whether the pigeon was inspired by any of the city’s real-life birds.

His visit comes after a call was made for volunteers to take part in the Oxfordshire Reading Campaign and he said: “It’s a great idea.”

Work has already started in schools on the Oxford Mail-backed campaign and more than 40 volunteers have been recruited to read one-to-one with children taking part. It is sponsored by Oxfordshire County Council and run by the National Literacy Trust.

To get involved, email