October 06, 2020

Teaching Mrs. Muddle

Written by Colleen Nelson
Illustrated by Alice Carter 
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 3-6
October 2020

As a teacher, I know we have a lot to learn from our students. If you're a really good teacher, and I believe Mrs. Muddle will be someday, you listen.
From Teaching Mrs. Muddle by Colleen Nelson, illus. by Alice Carter
First day of school can be an exciting day but also a trepidacious one, especially for new students such as kindergartners like Kayla who are already nervous about getting lost and missing their mothers.
Mom didn't look ready to say good-bye. I didn't know what she'd do without me all day.
But Mrs. Muddle is certainly muddled. First she mixes up all their nametags–Kayla is most definitely not Jeremy–and then she reads Kayla's favourite book upside down and tells it wrong. Fortunately, Kayla is very helpful and corrects her teacher without embarrassing her.
From Teaching Mrs. Muddle by Colleen Nelson, illus. by Alice Carter

When they head out for a tour of the school and Mrs. Muddle confuses the library for the gym, mistaking the bookshelves for an obstacle course, and a Gr. 5 classroom for the music room and then must repeatedly ask for directions to the bathroom, Kayla helps the teacher out, though Mrs. Muddle doesn't always recognize her slips.
"Mrs. Muddle, maybe you should let me handle this," I said.
"But it's your first day. You might get lost."
Even on my first day, I didn't think I'd get more lost than Mrs. Muddle!
It's the little ones who listen and follow Mr. Brown's gym rules–Mrs. Muddle can't seem to manage that–and Kayla who comes to the rescue when Jeremy hurts his knee on the playground. Finally, after a full day of guiding Mrs. Muddle, Kayla realizes it's time to go home and she has successfully gotten through the first day of kindergarten along with her classmates but also her teacher.

From Teaching Mrs. Muddle by Colleen Nelson, illus. by Alice Carter

Without making Kayla precocious or Mrs. Muddle outrageous, Colleen Nelson creates a very relatable school situation that is both engaging and charming. It's giving Kayla and every child the opportunity to see that they embody far greater capabilities than they imagine they possess. Though this is Colleen Nelson's first picture book, her impressive repertoire of both middle grade novels such as Harvey Comes Home and YA novels like The Fall, Finding Hope and Sadia have always cheered young people for their ability to face challenges, find solutions and make better lives for themselves than their circumstances might dictate. Even in a light but big-hearted story about finding your own way by helping others, Colleen Nelson drives home the conviction that young people can do so much.
From Teaching Mrs. Muddle by Colleen Nelson, illus. by Alice Carter
That brightness of Colleen Nelson's story and message about children's potential to lead is emphatically portrayed in Alice Carter's illustrations. Rich in the primary colours which will appeal to young children, Alice Carter makes what could have been a gloomy story about making mistakes or an incompetent teacher into an energized lesson in helping with heart and being confident.

Teaching Mrs. Muddle should become a must-read for parents sending little ones off to kindergarten but it will be also become a favourite for young children who will laugh at the muddled Mrs. Muddle and applaud Kayla for her cleverness and subtlety, recalling their own first times in new situations and satisfaction at handling them as well.

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