Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Monster Moments

What is it exactly about monsters that kids find so fascinating, scary and most of the time, fun?  Books about Nessie and Bigfoot are rarely on the shelves, constantly checked out as soon as they are returned.  At Halloween one of the most popular stories I tell to my older students is The Night of the Sasquatch.

Monsters, more home-grown, are said to be in closets or under the bed.  Oh, yes, I remember the days of not hanging any portion of my body over the bed at night; you couldn't be too careful.  Monsters come in all shapes, sizes and dispositions but the best kind of monsters are full of surprises.

Patrick McDonnell, Caldecott Honor winner for Me...Jane, illustrator of the popular Mutts comic strip and other books containing those irresistibly lovable characters, has written and illustrated a new title for us to enjoy.  The Monsters' Monster (Little, Brown and Company), recently released, is one of those stories where sometimes what you want is not what you need.  You never know, based on the exterior, what the interior will reveal.

Grouch, Grump, and little Gloom 'n' Doom thought they were monsters.

If living in huge, gloomy castle perched on a tall, formidable mountain casting a shadow on a charming village below counts as monster criteria, these three fit the bill.  They're loud (smash, crash and bash), constantly cranky and definitely negative; no being their favorite word. Whining about nothing, having fits of anger, moaning in woe, and fighting about who is the most monstrous of all has their calendar filled in month after month.

Then the trio hatch a plan to construct---

The biggest, baddest monster EVER!

In true Frankenstein style, during a dark and story night, their wrapped giant is lifted into the air, lightning striking him into life.  Amid the elated cheers of Grouch, Grump and little Gloom and Doom, this colossal creation staggers forward arms outstretched.  Uttering two words which completely flabbergasts his new companions, he gathers them up in a group hug.

The Monster opens the window letting in the sunny morning light, he greets all the creepy crawlies in the room and in a burst of true gratitude crashes through the wall.  Oh boy, the threesome are gleeful now; this is true-blue monster behavior.  They follow him down the mountain, down the street and wait restlessly outside a shop.

Where are the screams and moans of despair and fright?  In silence he leaves, bag in hand.  Like cars on a train they follow him to the beach. In the stillness of the sunrise they receive his treats, speaking what they have learned and...being monsters is the last thing on their minds.

The cadence of Patrick McDonnell's narrative sometimes using repetition, rhyme, a series of  questions or a single word, all carefully selected, is magical. The sentences and phrases roll right off your tongue into your storytelling heart, a smile beginning to form on your face.  Readers become a part of the tale so much so that when it ends, they want to stay.

Opening up the book's jacket on the back the three little troublemakers are hopping around, arms raised  wondering what they could possibly have done.  The gray on the jacket is deepened on the cover with only a single, different visual on the front taken from the book.  The orange with black endpapers suggest storm clouds in the front and a sun rising above the sea in the back.

I love the heavy paper used in making this book, beginning with a gray tone background which becomes lighter, warmer near the end.  Despite the dusky, muted hues for most of the book, there is a playfulness present in the splashes of black ink, the monsters' movements and facial expressions (some will elicit peals of laughter).  Full page closeups, two page spreads, small vignettes, go hand-in-hand with the text, complimenting every descriptive thought, action or piece of dialogue.

Patrick McDonnell has written and illustrated a story filled with the improbable becoming possible; a peek at what an attitude of gratitude can bring.  The Monsters' Monster is a visual joy filled to the brim with zip, zap and wow.  For Halloween this title is perfect but really any time of the year will do, because readers just can't get enough of those monsters.

Here is a link to an interview with Patrick McDonnell about this book at Publishers Weekly.

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