Written and Illustrated by Mo Willems
Hyperion Books for Children, 2009
There is so much to learn about the fascinating little creatures known as naked mole rats.
Did You Know? Naked mole rats seem to be resistant to all forms of cancer.
Wilbur is the only naked mole rat who likes to wear clothes and the others are horrified at him for doing so. He tells them he enjoys it and that it lets him be creative. They jokingly suggest he open a store and he does, much to their dismay. They tell him naked mole rats simply do NOT wear clothes and he asks ‘Why not?’ A delegation of the outraged naked mole rats goes to see Grand-pah, the oldest (and most naked) mole rat and they tell him about Wilbur. Grand-pah tells them he will make a proclamation about it and all the naked mole rats, including Wilbur, gather to hear him. Grand-pah shows up dressed in clothes and tells them all that Wilbur’s question is a good one and that there’s no real reason not to wear clothes if you want to. From that point on, those naked mole rats who want to wear clothing do so happily and those who don’t, don’t, just as happily.
Author/illustrator Mo Willems brings his usual wit and wisdom to this delightful story about one of the most unusual animal species. Of course, you could tell this story with just about any species, but it works even better with these guys, since they have ‘naked’ in their name, making their nakedness an expectation, which is a key part of the story. It’s also one of the things that cranks up the comedy simply by turning our philosophy of clothing on its head. In the world of the perpetually naked, those who wear clothes are the odd man out. It’s a funny concept and it plays out beautifully.
The illustrations are light and humorous, with the naked mole rats’ little pink bodies appearing perfectly nude yet never presenting it as anything offensive to those of us not quite so comfortable with nudity. The story features themes of non-conformity, mob mentality and peer pressure, and ends with a delightful ‘live and let live’ approach working in the community. I respect books that encourage kids to question things they don’t understand, because it’s the quickest way to help them think for themselves. Mr. Willems, once again, does a wonderful job of conveying this with whimsy and laughter.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that as long as no one is getting hurt, everyone should be able to do what works best for them.