Having a reputation for being one of the best sixth grade language arts teachers, she presided over her classroom for decades like none other. We were too scared not to learn. Clear as a bell, I can see her standing at the blackboard diagramming sentences with us dutifully mirroring her every line and word.
One day a classmate was spinning a coin on his desktop during a lesson. Unfortunately he lost control of it. In a room where you could have heard a pin drop, the clinking of the nickel sounded like the tolling of a gong. With surprising speed, she pinpointed the culprit, walked down the aisle and whacked his desk with a ruler. Needless to say, the entire room looked like a game of Statues had begun.
I'll wager that most of us have teachers in our lives who are memorable for one reason or another. I'll even go so far as to say some might have thought their teachers downright dreadful. (My teachers were all wonderful. Maybe that's why I wanted to become one myself.) My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) (Little, Brown and Company) written and illustrated by Peter Brown acquaints readers with Bobby's teacher who most definitely looks like a monster...a big cranky green monster.
Bobby had a big problem at school.
Her name was Ms. Kirby.
She screeches his full name, Robert, when he flies a paper airplane, stomps her feet demanding people move as if she is parting the Red Sea and bellows for her students to be quiet once and for all. Her rule about missing recess for flying paper airplanes in class is the last straw. This teacher is no lady. This teacher IS a monster.
Luckily Bobby has a sanctuary on the weekends from all this scariness. He looks forward to going to the park on Saturdays. To his utter shock one Saturday, Ms. Kirby is at the park. YIKES! His fear draws him to her like a magnet.
Careful to keep his distance he sits at the opposite end of the bench from where she is. As if they are in the classroom he raises his hand. Ms. Kirby replies that out here in the park that is not necessary. A polite conversation begins but stalls.
The silence is broken by a stiff breeze sending Ms. Kirby's rather large hat sailing. Running, quacking (quacking?), climbing and piloting supply the needed ingredients for an astonishing transformation. Change really is in the wind.
Beauty and the Beast has been a beloved fairy tale of mine for as long as I can remember. For some reason this narrative by Peter Brown seemed to have similar elements. Ms. Kirby's response to Bobby's airplane flying is like Beast's response to the rose being picked. When rules are broken there will be consequences even if the rule breaker does not understand. The person in charge is or can appear to be a monster. When common ground is reached or experiences are shared each person, each character, reaches a greater understanding. Perceptions fade; replaced by truth.
Brown's choice to focus on the paper airplane incident will find a wide audience; the urge to fly these creations is universal. Comedy is introduced when Bobby raises his hand to speak in the park and with the duck quacking serenade. Word choices and sentence structure will appeal to the intended audience, striking a beautiful balance in pacing.
I can't help but laugh when I look at the matching book case and dust jacket of this title. The expressions on Ms. Kirby's face combined with the wide eyes and cowlick hair of Bobby are hilarious. Both are equally sincere in their beliefs. For the most part Peter Brown continues to use white space throughout the remainder of the book as he does here to highlight his characters and their interactions. The bright sky blue seen on the back as well as the opening and closing endpapers is the only exception.
Rendered in India ink, watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper then digitally composited and colored, the illustrations retain the same color palette on all the pages establishing a sense of security, a comfort level necessary to tell this story. Reader interest is maintained with the alteration of picture size; two pages, a single page, or smaller visuals grouped on a full page especially when Ms. Kirby and Bobby are speaking to one another in the park. There is such strength in Brown's illustrations he chooses to have no text on several pages.
Perhaps my favorite visuals are the wordless ones when Bobby and Ms. Kirby initially see each other at the park and when they are with the ducks. The contrast in these two situations is evident. No text is necessary.
According to a post on his blog, Pete Brown did extensive personal research prior to developing the final narrative for this book. This is evident when readers follow the story of My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not). There is a realistic sincerity in all the conversations and situations. That is exactly what makes this book an A++ winner. Make sure this title is part of your personal and professional collections. I will be placing this on my Mock Caldecott list.
Please follow the link embedded in Peter Brown's name to visit his website. This link takes you to an Activity Kit! This blog post explains the process for developing this book with plenty of artwork included. This link takes you to a chat between Peter Brown and Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast at Kirkus.
Pick up a copy at your local indie book seller. I got mine at McLean & Eakin in Petoskey. Or visit your nearest library.