As children the decor in our home, the little extra details, was always changing with the arrival of a new holiday. We all loved celebrations. On Valentine's Day, unlike the other holidays, my dad would always give my sister and me a goofy card from him alone; signing it himself making the a in Dad using his special style. The first year after he passed away my mom took some of his gold jewelry, had it melted and shaped into two large heart charms. It was our final Valentine's Day gift from dad.
For a variety of reasons not all people enjoy this day of hearts, flowers, sweet treats and symbols of love. In fact some singular individuals find it disgusting. The green-faced grump we met and loved in Crankenstein has returned in A Crankenstein Valentine (Little, Brown and Company, December 16, 2014) written by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Dan Santat. His loathing for this day equals laughter for readers.
HAVE YOU SEEN MY LITTLE SWEETHEART, CRANKENSTEIN?
YOU CAN'T MISS CRANKENSTEIN ON VALENTINE'S DAY.
In reply to his mother's early morning greeting, mister sweetness and delight answers with a single discouraging word. When she happily shows him his new pair of briefs patterned in hearts, his revulsion is vividly apparent. His snarky reaction as he leaves home with a bunch of flowers for his teachers, at his mother's insistence, is loudly proclaimed.
An overzealous classmate on the school bus has him cringing. His mom's heart-shaped creations in his lunch box have him nearly gagging. Making his own particular brand of Valentine card does make him grin; a sly, devilish kind of snarl. This is a good thing though because the afternoon simply gets worse.
Gross candy, pink on pink paper-garland chains, and the schoolwide extravaganza (How did he get tricked into doing this anyway?) elevate his grouchiness to dangerous levels. Valentine's Day is too much of everything Crankenstein abhors. Head for the hills people!
Wait a minute. Could it be? Is there one special thing that can save this day? By golly, this monster wallowing in misery might have made a startling discovery. His gritted teeth and growling might be going. There is no Valentine like A Crankenstein Valentine.
If you were to question guys and gals about the things they don't like about Valentine's Day, their answers would be close if not the same as those found in this story written by Samantha Berger. A knack for knowing her audience coupled with her flair for comedy makes every page turn an episode in hilarity. What brings this title to a marvelous conclusion, as she did in Crankenstein, is sharing her character's heart with readers. A little love goes a long way. Here is another sample passage.
YOU COULD CERTAINLY FIND HIM BITING INTO A CHOCOLATE WITH SURPRISE HAIRY COCONUT INSIDE.
CRANKENSTEIN DOES NOT CARE FOR THAT KIND OF CHOCOLATE.
If you don't at least crack a smile looking at the front of this book's dust jacket, then you need to breathe into the Crankenstein-o-meter to check your grump levels. The look on his face, the cupid costume with the heart underwear and those tube socks is an open invitation to grin. On the back is a more golden background with a silhouette of Crankenstein yelling, arms raised in the air. The text reads:
ROSES ARE RED.
VIOLET ARE BLUE.
VALENTINE'S DAY STINKS.
SERIOUSLY, P. U.
Beneath the dust jacket, a book case is designed to look like a box of candy, text spread diagonally on the front reading
LOH QUALITY MART BRAND
On the back the nutrition facts and the ISBN appear on the heart-patterned background. Inside on the opening and closing endpapers are large pastel, heart-shaped candies with text which reflect the changes in the story from the beginning to the end. For example SOUR PUSS, COOTIES and PUKE are replaced with KISS ME, LET'S HUG and HI. A large silhouette of Crankenstein grimacing spreads across the title page and verso.
Dan Santat's skillful use of Adobe Photoshop created all the two-page illustrations of varying perspectives with text set in DanSantat and display type hand-lettered. Every detail closely follows the theme of the narrative. When Crankenstein's mom is speaking her words appear on lacy square doilies or soft shapes framed in hearts or flowers; his are shown in jagged rectangles. Careful readers will notice the lettering on Crankenstein's backpack, the reappearance of the book case design on a candy box, and another green face on the bus.
All of the characters expressions are highly animated but those of Crankenstein are hysterical. No one can look as disgusted with situations like this guy can. No one can change into the boy his mother loves like this guy can. No one can be as happy asleep in bed at the end of a holiday to be avoided as our own Crankenstein.
One of my favorite illustrations of many is the scene for the school Valentine's Day pageant. The lower half of the picture is the front of the stage, a great background for the text. The curtains frame the sides. Hearts on ribbons and the chain garlands on hanging from the ceiling. All the kids are happily enjoying the program dressed in all kinds of costumes, playing their recorders and singing. Crankenstein is shown in green from head to toe in his Cupid attire tightly grasping a bow. Another student wearing a Valentine gift costume is looking a bit disgruntled too. The contrasts are sure to bring on the giggles.
If you are looking for the perfect fun-filled new Valentine book, look no further than A Crankenstein Valentine written by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Dan Santat. It's a heart-warming companion to the first. Be ready for peals of laughter and requests for repeat readings. I adore this little monster.
To learn more about the work of Samantha Berger and Dan Santat please follow the links embedded in their names to their websites. Dan Santat appeared on a Let's Get Busy podcast hosted by teacher librarian, Matthew C. Winner. Enjoy the book trailer.