It’s widely agreed that life is complex – and so the ability to notice complexities can be a tremendous boost to self-confidence, resilience and skilled decision making. When children begin to recognise that there are often competing interests to be balanced and that there will often be more than one right answer (and more than one wrong answer) they are better equipped to be compassionate and caring towards others. This world could sure use more of that!
A book as simple and funny as My Uncle’s Donkey is ideal, because it presents the child with two familiar ideas and then sets those ideas outside of the everyday. Most children have an uncle and most children are familiar with the idea of having a pet. But a donkey falls outside of the norm – and leads to all sorts of possible thoughts like:
Does my uncle have a pet? How does he treat the pet?
What are the rules about pets? Is there any chance that I could have a donkey for a pet? Would it be allowed inside?
Can someone else have a whole different set of standards for how pets are treated?
Is having a donkey in the house shocking or cosy?
Would I even want a donkey in the house? The donkey does seem to get in the way sometimes.
Once a child has settled on the idea that someone else can act differently and that can be fun but not necessarily something the child might want to do, they're on their way to being able to think in similar ways about a whole lot of other more important issues. So… this is a great book for raising complex issues in a simple non-confrontational way.
Plus, it’s heaps of fun to read—and that’s the key. Pretty much everyone likes to think and to wonder and to share a joke.
There are a whole bunch of little gags through the book, like: “My uncle’s donkey is toilet trained … luckily.” Visual gags too, like a donkey in striped socks. The last page is the clincher though:
“I wonder if my uncle’s donkey would be allowed in our house?”
There’s no answer—not even implied. The perfect ending. This is a simply-told story with few words and clear pictures, making it ideal for younger children—but older kids will still find it funny and could use it as a conversation starter or to springboard ideas for writing.
One last thing: it works beautifully as a starting point for gender conversations: the donkey is never assigned a gender, but most children tend to assume it must be a boy – there’s a good conversation to be had here about why that is.