Get Ready to Kick It With Manny - The Missourian: Features People

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Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013 2:23 pm | Updated: 7:59 pm, Mon Jan 7, 2013.

What’s your opinion of mules?  Have anything nice to say about them?

Neither did Chris Stuckenschneider, until recently, that is. The Missourian columnist and book editor believed all of the stereotypes commonly kicked around—basically that mules are lazy, ugly and not very smart.

No more. Stuckenschneider has become a “lover of long ears,” full of respect for these humble animals that have contributed so much to so many.

“Mules are our most common hybrid and have played an instrumental role in our nation’s history,” said Stuckenschneider. “The breed has been used in agriculture, in mines, in wars . . . to pull goods, to build homes. They are fascinating animals and very intelligent too. Mule people will tell you that long ears aren’t really stubborn, they’re cautious. They think things over.”

Wanting to set the record straight on the mule’s reputation, Stuckenschneider has created Manny, a fun-talking mule with facts to share that will probably surprise many folks.

For starters, did you know that George Washington is considered the father of American mules? He was an early breeder responsible for developing jack stock, donkeys that were bred to mares and produced large, strong mules needed to work the land on plantations and farms. Later, mules helped in America’s western expansion by pulling pioneer wagons and dragging logs so homesteaders could build their homes. 

They were instrumental in building the Erie Canal in the early 1800s and pulled goods along the waterway.

And mules have played key roles in all of America’s wars, from The Revolution to Afghanistan.

Intrigued? That’s just the beginning. You can read all about these mule facts and more starting next weekend, Jan. 12-13, in The Missourian. 

Stuckenschneider has written an eight-chapter serial story, “Manny Kicks Long Ear Lore,” that she and Manny hope will finally earn mules the respect they deserve.

The story, produced for school-aged children through the Missouri Press Foundation’s Newspaper In Education program, is both entertaining and educational, and filled with lessons for all ages.

Chapters detail Washington’s contribution to the breed, facts on mules and the Erie Canal, the connection between Missouri and mules, and the vital role the animals fulfilled in hauling Borax from California’s Death Valley. One of the lighter chapters introduces facts about “Francis the Talking Mule,” a Hollywood star that hailed from Missouri.

The story also includes information on mules in the American military as well as record-setting mules and finally features a local honey of a mule named Babe. 

A companion teacher guide, written by Jennifer Wirthwein, a teacher at Washington Middle School, is available to expand the learning. Correlated to the Common Core Standards, the guide turns facts from the story into questions for students.

And you don’t have to be a teacher to access the guide, noted Dawn Kitchell, The Missourian’s educational services director who also is director of the Missouri Press Foundation’s Newspaper In Education program. The guide is posted online at emissourian.com so parents can download it too.

“What I like about this story is that it’s nonfiction, but it’s narrated by a fictional character, so it fits right in with the Common Core objectives for nonfiction reading,” said Kitchell.

“And the teacher guide includes activities for every chapter, as well as vocabulary extensions and exercises focusing on the use of figurative language in the story.”

There also are “Links to More (Mule) Learnin’ ,” suggestions of books to read, websites to visit and YouTube videos to watch.

Whole Country Will Be Reading

The Missourian won’t be the only newspaper kicking “Manny’s Long Ear Lore.” Papers all across the country will have access to it through the fifth annual Reading Across the Nation, a project sponsored by the National Newspaper Association Foundation.

That includes Missouri newspapers, which have published a Reading Across Missouri serial story for nine years now through the Missouri Press Foundation as a way to teach Missouri history.

Stuckenschneider has written two of these serial stories. The first was “Pressing West” about the 200th anniversary of the first Missouri newspaper, The Missouri Gazette. The second was last year’s “Patriotic Pals: Tails of the Civil War,” which also was shared with the NNA through a special partnership.

“Patriotic Pals” was wildly successful, said Kitchell, noting more than 400 newspapers from 44 states downloaded it.

Finding Manny’s Voice

Stuckenschneider isn’t quite sure where she got the idea for a serial story on mules. It may have been through interesting tidbits she came across in researching “Patriotic Pals,” stories about how mules served men in the Civil War.

Initially Stuckenschneider thought a story on mules would mainly be funny, but the more research she did on the animals, the more she came to appreciate them. That’s when she heard Manny’s voice.

“I wanted the serial story to be told by a mule with an attitude, a long ear that’s sick and tired of not getting any respect,” said Stuckenschneider. “This was the lament of the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield. When I remembered this, an idea popped into my head, and Manny suddenly had a voice. 

“He would set the record straight on the role mules have played down through history with his own breed of caustic humor.”

Getting in touch with her animal side is something Stuckenschneider has been doing ever since she wrote “Twist of Fate: the Miracle Colt and His Friends,” a survival story about 26 horses involved in a truck accident. The story is told by Twister, an unborn colt at the time of the accident. He talks about his life at his new home, a 165-acre farm in a valley, a haven for rescued and resilient animals, Longmeadow Rescue Ranch

The story, which began as a Stuckenschneider column in The Missourian, was first turned into a serial story for newspapers and later became an award-winning children’s picture book.

Stuckenschneider is in the process of doing the same thing with her serial story on “Patriotic Pals,” which will be released this fall by Reedy Press.

Ideally, she would like to follow suit with “Manny.” She sees value in expanding his story even more and taking it to a wider audience through a children’s book.

“Manny was a fun character to work with,” Stuckenschneider remarked, “a long ear with an attitude, bound and determined to chip away at the stereotype mules have long been burdened with.”

/features_people