Wilbur is a naked mole rat who likes clothes. Other mole rats find this behavior strange, sometimes scandalous. Wilbur enjoys the different roles and characters that his wide-ranging wardrobe allows him to play. He even opens a store. In frustration over Wilbur’s blatant disregard of social custom, the other mole rats appeal to their leader, Grand-pah. Grand-pah surprises Wilbur and the other mole rats by embracing innovation and appearing fully clothed to the gathered naked mole rats. Civilization, as they know it, will never be the same.
Wilbur makes a terrific character with a strong sense of individuality. He holds to his passions and does not bow to peer pressure. He makes a terrific role model for children who feel that others see them as weird.
The other mole rats in the story, with the exception of Grand-pah, are vividly antagonistic. They are almost the stereotypical bully, en masse, except that they represent the majority and not a minority opinion.
Grand-pah is an unexpected character. Older generations often have the reputation of maintaining a death grip on the customs of their culture, treating any potential change as a threat. Even the other mole rats treat Grand-pah as a paragon of mole rat-hood, certain that he will agree with their rejection of Wilbur. Grand-pah’s proclamation of free choice makes a terrific climax, demonstrating that change is possible, that allies can come from unexpected places, and that sometimes the weirdest people are simply ahead of the game.
Willems’s illustrations are always simple and perfect. They evoke a range of emotions. The simplicity and straightforwardness of the plot is another strength, though some of the text will be incomprehensible to young readers, such as Wilbur’s thought that Grand-pah would “look heroic and regal in a casual shirt and some summer slacks” (Willems 13).
As far as weaknesses go, the ending may be overly simplistic. Grand-pah’s proclamation seems to have solved everything for Wilbur, which is not a realistic ending to the endless social rejection Wilbur faced. A more lifelike ending would have featured some of the mole rats refusing to join the party, continuing to feel that Wilbur’s clothedness violated some intrinsic quality of mole rat-ness.
While it often seems that Mo Willems can do no wrong, NAKED MOLE RAT GETS DRESSED is a particularly entertaining, snarky, and hopeful book.
“Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed uses humor and adorable, pink, naked mole rats to discuss one of the difficult challenges children face—the desire to be true to oneself, even if that means being different from others” (Junior Library Guild 2009).
“Willems tackles the old it’s-OK-to-be-different genre with his customary chutzpah and subversive charm” (Kirkus Review 2010).
NAKED by Michael Ian Black
FROGGY GETS DRESSED by Jonathan London
UNDERPANTS DANCE by Marlena Zapf
YOU CAN’T GO TO SCHOOL NAKED by Dianne Billstrom
VEGETABLES IN UNDERWEAR by Jared Chapman
POLAR BEAR’S UNDERWEAR by Tupera Tupera
Make your own clothes closet for a clothing-theme story time!
Dotson, Chazley. “Craft Ideas for Children’s Librarians.” Accessed August 29, 2015. http://padlet.com/chazley_dotson/fjsx02duziuf
Junior Library Guild. April 1, 2009. http://bookverdict.com/details.xqy?uri=Product-648178.xml
Kirkus Review. May 20, 2010. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/mo-willems/naked-mole-rat-gets-dressed/
Willems, Mo. 2009. NAKED MOLE RAT GETS DRESSED. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 9781423114376