When Justin and I were expecting London we agreed to buy her one book each week until she arrived. 40 books later we’d learned a lot about kids’ books. For one, they’re not all good. In fact, a lot of them are boring and predictable. Sick of watercolor farm animals, completely age-inappropriate content and hokey morals, we were thrilled to stumble upon my now favorite childrens’ writer ever: Mo Willems. London LOVES his pigeon books, but my favorite is “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed.”
This is a story about a naked mole rat named Wilbur who, unlike all of the other naked mole rats in his community, likes wearing clothes. Of course, He is severely criticized for his preference, and the tension only builds when Wilbur—in response to the command “Naked mole rats don’t wear clothes!”—simply asks, “Why not?” Wilbur’s question is brought to the wisest of the naked mole rats (Grand-pah) who decides to make a public proclamation. In front of a completely naked crowd, Grand-pah walks onto the stage dressed head to toe (like Colonel Sanders), and says:
"Fellow naked mole rats! I had never worn clothes until I heard Wilbur’s simple question: Why not?
"Why not, indeed? Do clothes hurt anyone? No. Are they fun? Well, they may not be for everyone, but this old naked mole rat wishes he had tried getting dressed earlier!"
What comes next is unexpected in a kid’s book. It’s complicated. Not over-simplified or sugary. Well, maybe a little sugary. Anyway, instead of everyone getting dressed, the story ends with some of the mole rats wearing clothes and some not:
"Much has been said about that day, but for this story, you only need to know three things:
1. Some of the mole rats were naked.
2. Some of the mole rats were clothed.
3. All of the mole rats had a great time.”
And that’s the end. Love it!
I know so many grown-ups who could benefit from this story. In a world that seems to force uniformity, I think it’s great for kids to read about a time when someone responded to the pressure by asking, “Why?” And I think it’s great that the question didn’t result in a pendulum swing the other way. Wilbur didn’t win the argument and then force everyone to start wearing clothes. No, everyone did what they wanted to do—not what the status quo dictated.
I doubt London got all of that out of the book, but she did say “Whoa…” when she saw the big, regal portrait of Grand-pah naked mole rat. And that’s enough for now.