Cover Image

Mudkin by S. Gammell

Gammell, Stephen. Mudkin. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2011. Print.

Kids love mud. Of this there is no doubt. There is nothing like an afternoon spent knee-deep in ooze to undo the adult tyranny of cleanliness and crown a child king— or queen, as in the case of Mudkin. In this latest offering by Caldecott-winning illustrator Stephen Gammell, an imaginative young girl teams up with a playful sprite whose onion-shaped head and squat, gnomelike body are comprised, it would seem, entirely of mud. Mud-made too are the robe and crown he offers the girl, who gladly accepts her newfound role as monarch of muck. Together, the two of them caper and romp through a backyard mud-kingdom, until the rainclouds gather and wash Mudkin and his mud-realm away.

The story’s premise – a child conjuring a magical playmate out of the elements – seems familiar, echoing as it does an illustrated masterwork of an earlier generation: Raymond Briggs’s wordless classic, The Snowman. Yet while Briggs’s story ends in a minor key (the snowman, wondrously alive for a single night, melts away in the morning sun), Mudkin’s watery fate carries no sadness; nor does it offer, as The Snowman does, a tacit elegy on the transience of childhood. Gammell’s riotous watercolours (so ecstatically fluid they erupt like geysers on the page) affirm this distinction: mud, unlike snow, is chaotic and unsentimental. Not a medium for reflection, it is the stuff of pure play. As a result, Mudkin is nothing more and nothing less than a bit of good – if not entirely clean – fun.

Recommended: 3 out of 4 stars.
Reviewer: Sarah Mead-Willis

Sarah is the Rare Book Cataloguer at the University of Alberta's Bruce Peel Special Collections Library. She holds a BA and an MLIS from the University of Alberta and an MA in English Literature from the University of Victoria.