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

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