friends don’t need to be the same to be valued and loved

MUDDLE & MO
by Nikki Slade Robinson – Starfish Bay Children’s Books, 2015
ages newborn to 8 years / heartwarmers, s.t.e.m.


We’ve had mini goats for years now – they’re entertaining animals and crazy cute as babies.  We’ve had ducks too – ours have been opinionated and intrusive, always coming into the house. They’re both full of personality, which makes the characters in Muddle & Mo easy to imagine in real life form.

Mo is a goat and Muddle is a puzzled little duck. Muddle is trying to understand why Mo isn't the same as other ducks. Muddle, the duck, thinks Mo, the goat, has a hairy beak, a funny quack and so on.

Eventually Muddle discovers that Mo is, in fact, a goat and suddenly it’s all clear.

Although this is a book of few words and delightfully simple pictures, there’s a level of complexity that makes it ideal for a child to grow into. 

The humour relies on the absurdity of a duck wanting a goat to be the same as a duck. That’s fairly sophisticated humour – there’s quite a lot of background knowledge required to make it work. (We need to know about animal species, and the value of difference for example.) But, because it’s a quick read and features funny animals, it will appeal to young children even before they fully understand the humour. They’ll know it’s funny though – after all, Muddle the duck does say:

‘Your poos are too hard.’  

And we all know that any mention of the poo is automatically funny if you’re under about 8-years-old!

Some other cool things about Muddle & Mo:

There’s no gender bias. If you’re really dedicated you could figure out gender for Muddle & Mo – but because the book is entirely a dialogue it’s not necessary to the story line. 

Muddle’s efforts to classify Mo by using familiar markers is representative of a very human trait. As beneficial and necessary as it can be to use those familiar markers (like age, gender, hair colour and so on) there is also the potential for it to result in racism or other forms of discrimination. Muddle & Mo does a great job of pointing out the problem with lots of funny lines that let us see how silly it is to want everyone to conform to our standards. More on the effects of classifying and racism here.

Muddle and Mo are each assigned a typeface making it really easy to know who is speaking – Muddle’s is curly and eccentric, while Mo’s is straightforward and sensible, matching their characters.

In the end Muddle is happy to be a duck and happy for Mo to be a goat. And being happy with who we are and who others are is a major life lesson, don’t you think?

Reading Muddle & Mo reminds me of a quote that’s often attributed to Einstein (even though it’s probably not his):

 
Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
— Albert Einstein (maybe)
 

Regardless of its origins, that's essentially the lesson that Muddle learns and the underlying idea in this very sweet story. Also … this book about learning to value differences.

You can buy Muddle & Mo via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia

some friends, some luck and some work help when life’s storms become rough

MILO: A MOVING STORY
by Tohby Riddle – Allen & Unwin, 2016
ages 2 to 8 years / heartwarmers, emotional resilience


In the midst of an ordinary life, there are times when we feel tossed and beaten. In those moments, the loyalty of friends who wait and watch as we weather the storm and then celebrate our return, seems at once like an anchor and a lighthouse.

Milo is a dog who lives just such an ordinary life. He has friends, a job, a kennel that’s solid and ‘few complaints.’ 

But, after a restless night dreaming of being in a little boat, Milo speaks harshly to one of his friends. 

After that, Milo’s day continues to be ‘out of kilter.’  What begins as a mild breeze becomes a gale as Milo struggles to deal with life as it whirls around him. His world is so completely upended that he eventually needs rescuing by a migratory bird (wearing sneakers because he likes to walk sometimes) and a window cleaner.

Milo’s reactions to the upheaval in his world are both instructive and relatable. This is a particularly lovely parable about the effects of self doubt and disquiet.

Milo’s first night dreaming about being tossed in a little boat results in him not sleeping well. The next dream however has a more profound effect – Milo feels seasick and wakes to find his entire perspective on the world has changed. 

Milo and his kennel have been carried about by the winds and have landed on the top of a tall building – his literal perspective-change works beautifully as a metaphor for his internal change - and as he considers the life he had and seems to have lost, Milo is somber and howls softly to himself.

 

Then, as it so often seems to do, luck intervenes and sends Carlos the migratory bird to Milo’s kennel. Working together, Carlos and Milo save Milo from immediate peril, then embrace his new (rooftop) position. Soon, a window cleaner comes and takes Milo and his kennel to the ground. 

There’s still work to be done; the kennel must be taken home. But at home, where the kennel should be, are Milo’s friends. They’re fearful for Milo, they stand watching and waiting. And when Milo does return, there is ‘relief all round’, coupled with a healthy dose of skepticism as his friends ‘hardly believe’ Milo’s story about his adventures!  

It’s often that way isn’t it? The very best of friends, who are loyal and concerned, still struggle to understand the storms and buffetings of another. 

A celebration follows Milo’s return but there is still more work to be done. Milo had offended Snombo, one of these very loyal friends, by failing to value the poetry Snombo was creating. In the midst of his own turmoil, Milo had yelled at his friend. 

There’s an apology, but not instant forgiveness.

Milo dreams again. He’s once more in a little boat, but this time the sea is calm and there is land in sight. Finally, there is reconciliation in the form of a gift of a bound collection of Snombo’s poetry. And all is well, Milo's turmoil is replaced with peace.

This is a truly marvellous story for exploring the benefits of friendship. Milo’s friends feature at the beginning of the story when there is fun to be had and messages to be passed - and they are there at the end. After Milo has gone through all the upheaval in his life, his friends are waiting for him. In Snombo’s case: waiting in spite of earlier offences and in spite of continued feelings of sadness.

And there’s so much more to this story:

It’s wonderful for thinking about how we respond to truly difficult times. When Milo is home again and sleeping well, he wakes feeling like himself and reflects, ‘Isn’t life a mystery’.  In so many circumstances life remains a mystery - but Milo settles comfortably into his life. He listens to music, he works, and he waits for Snombo to recover too. It’s a peaceful response to the upheaval he has lived through. 

There’s a reminder that sometimes we need a bit of luck, and that we need to work even when we do have some luck. 

There’s a promise of better days to come when we are in the midst of physical or mental distress. (It's a really nice book for talking about mental health issues – Milo becomes disorientated, depressed and anxious when his world is disrupted, but he emerges eventually to waiting friends and to a happy life.)

The ordinary day is enthroned as a good and joyous thing.

The language is great for growing vocabulary as it introduces phrases and words that may be new to young readers in such a smooth and seamless fashion that understanding flows easily. (Words like ‘zephyr’ and ‘peril’.  Phrases like ‘out of kilter’ and ‘lofty poetry.’)

The story deals with sadness, regret, and anxiety. It does so in a completely child-appropriate way, without making light of or hiding the impact of those feelings in any way.

The illustrations reflect perfectly the various moods and stages of Milo’s life – they are by turns gloomy, cheerful, peaceful and sweeping.

The thing that finally redeems Milo and Snombo’s friendship, and completes Milo’s return to contentment, is a shared book of Snombo’s poems.  Poetry is truly redemptive, as is the very process of creating.

All of which makes for a brilliant picture book. And because there are plenty of giggle-worthy moments, it's one that will end up on high bedtime reading rotation.

Tohby Riddle also wrote The Greatest Gatsby and My Uncle’s Donkey – one of my favourite books for encouraging complex questions.

You can buy Milo: A Moving Story via these direct links: Book Depository - Booktopia

Names in this book -  Milo, Carlos (and Cluffy and Snombo!)

multi-award winning y.a. fantasy - a riveting fractured fairytale!

BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS
by Shannon Hale - Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2009
enticing and riveting, suits mid-teen right up to adult (say 14+) / fantasyyoung adult


If I had to pick a favourite reading genre it would definitely be Young Adult Fantasy.

I think it’s because when I read to relax and escape (which is often), YA fantasy delivers great story without so much of the ‘grit’ that's in older-adult books.

And I find, when looking through my library, that my preference is clearly for female lead characters. Especially those with strong spirits, courage and kindness. Dashti from Book of a Thousand Days is just such a character.

The story follows Dashti, a simple mucker from the steppes of Titor's Garden, on an extraordinary journey. (I love a good fractured fairytale, and this one is especially interesting - it's loosely based on the Grimm Brothers' Maid Maleen and retold in the world of the central Asian steppes, think Mongolia.) 

When Dashti is offered the chance to be a Lady’s maid she looks on it as an honour, even with conditions that have all the other maids fleeing in fear - Lady Saren is to be locked in a tower by her father for seven years for refusing to marry the sinister Lord Khasar!

Dashti, who doesn’t expect much from life, can only see the silver lining - as in:

Here’s the bit that makes me tremble with delight – in our cellar there is a mountain of food! Barrels and bags and crates of it. And we have a fine well dug right in the cellar floor. My lady is napping in her chamber, so I just come down here to look at the food. Seven years’ worth. Such a thing I never imagined. Even though I can’t see the sky, it’s hard not to want to dance about, knowing that for seven years at least I won’t starve. That’s paradise for a mucker like me.

 

But then the rats take over and the food runs out. Dashti and Lady Saren have no choice but to break out - only to find that the world has changed and nothing is as it was.

Here begins another adventure and through it all Dashti’s strength and sacrifice never falter. In the end her kindness, hard work, loyalty and humility allow her to overcome the frightful Lord Khasar and find love in an unexpected place.

This a must-read if you enjoy books that have strong female characters, that beautifully re-imagine a fairy tale, are full of friendship and loyalty, are a sweet love story and are just plain beautifully written! Told in the first person by Dashti, this story digs deep into the mind and heart of a beautiful, strong, courageous and kind character.

Also... this post by Jesse.

You can buy Book of a Thousand Days via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia

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