Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

This Is Not Your Imagination!

The first time I can recall using the word monster was after some person of questionable scruples told me about the possibility of one hiding under my bed.  I can't remember how long it took me to not be afraid to hang any portion of my body over the outline of the bed.  And there is no denying the fascination with cryptids such as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Bunyip, Chupacabra, the Jersey Devil or the Michigan Dogman to name only a few.

Most dictionaries define the word monster by using the word imaginary.  Monsters are simply not real.  Or are they?  In a companion title to the highly popular, Pink Is For Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals (The World of Weird Animals series)     (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, February 2, 2016) zoologist and author Jess Keating presents What Makes A Monster?: Discovering the World's Scariest Creatures (The World of Weird Animals series) (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, August 8, 2017).  David DeGrand returns with his quirky, humorous illustrations.  If you want to read a book, gasping at every page turn, this is a title you can't miss!

What makes a MONSTER?
Turn the page to find out,
if you dare...

Those three little words, if you dare, will apply throughout this title.  Seventeen of our planet's occupants on land, sea and air from the animal kingdom are revealed in all their strange, bizarre wonder.  You might think the cover creature has been shocked by its expression but the aye-aye uses those bony claws to tap on tree trunks looking for prey. When it finds something, it munches through the bark and gulp!  There are superstitions attached to the aye-aye; it is seen as a harbinger of death or even worse...causes death.  They, vampire bats, may not be Dracula but the way they get blood gives me the shivers.

You are not going to believe which fearless creature can be bitten by a venomous snake and live another day.  There is no escaping the tentacles of this group of animals which move as one.  They are usually thirty feet long but can be one hundred sixty-five feet long!  Holy heroes!  This frog is also known as the Wolverine frog. Guess why?

Facts about birds that kill the young of other birds after laying their eggs in that bird's nest, an ant brain feeding fungus, and a stinging insect that saves lives will astound you.  And trust me; you will never look at a prairie dog the same way again.  Who knew?  As if ants don't have enough problems already, another bug uses their corpses as clothing.

Sea creatures defending themselves with two sets of jaws and another who lives in the deep, deep depths sucking in its food like a vacuum are to be respected.  They are no ordinary dragons of legend and lore but Komodo dragons are deadly, eating anything they can.  There will be some readers who will be surprised by the seventeenth animal named.  I'm not one of them.  It's what makes this book a stunning accomplishment, asking us to really think about the use of the word monster and what it means to us.

Armed with knowledge of her subject and gifted for knowing exactly what readers need and want to know Jess Keating educates her readers like a master teacher.  For each of the seventeen animals she begins with an informative narrative paragraph.  This is followed by extensions relative to the animal; local superstitions, feeding habits, a detailed explanation of a unique trait, origin of a name or survival techniques.  On the right side of the right page (two pages are dedicated to each animal, beginning with a realistic photograph on the left), Jess gives us their name, species name, size, diet, habitat and predators and threats.

As if we are engaged in a one-on-one conversation she has readers riveted to the pages from the beginning to the end.  As you move from animal to animal, though, you find yourself speculating on their place and purpose in the grand scheme.  Above all else Jess Keating is inviting us to think.  Here is an example of one of the extended, second sections.

A Curious Claw
Claws are found in a wide range of species,
but clawed frogs are only found in Central
Africa.  In other animals, claws are made of
keratin, the same substance that creates
our own nails and hair.  But the claws of
horror frogs are unique---instead of
keratin, they are made of bone.

After you have read the words written by Jess Keating you are pleasantly surprised to find yourself laughing at how perfectly cartoonist David DeGrand seems to portray exactly what you are thinking.  For each of the seventeen animals he includes a comical image pertaining to a particular trait.  As the aye-aye taps on the outside of a tree trunk an insect quickly avoids death by leaping out a hole, ants are walking in a line upright with arms outstretched chanting All hail, Fungus! after their brains have been attacked by cordyceps fungus, a cute little prairie dog looks innocent as deadly, angry germs surround it and a barely alive Japanese giant hornet is leaving a smoking honeybee nest.  One of my favorite of several illustrations is of the tyrant leech king sitting in a chair and ottoman with a straw extending from its mouth, sucking on skin.

You must have multiple copies of What Makes A Monster?: Discovering the World's Scariest Creatures (The World of Weird Animals series) written by Jess Keating with illustrations by David DeGrand.  Readers will read these over and over again until they have the well-loved look.  Students will pass this book from reader to reader.  They will be quoting facts aloud.  At the close of the book Jess Keating asks us to ponder monster pairs.  She also has another page requesting us to seriously consider several questions about scary creatures, welcoming discussions. A Say What?! A Glossary of Useful Words closes the title.

To discover more about Jess Keating and David DeGrand and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Jess Keating's website is a treasure trove of resources for everyone but especially for educators.  She is continually sharing her zoological passion with readers bridging any gaps between us and the animal world.  Both the cover and the book trailer for this title were revealed at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read. By visiting the publisher's website you can view a portion of the book's interior.  I recently discovered an interview of Jess Keating at Celebrate Picture Books which you might enjoy.

Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected by other bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. this looks like a great book (not just for kids but for adults, too).

  2. I am super excited for this book. Jess Keating really does a great job finding interesting and even bizarre animal facts to share.

  3. Loved & own a copy of Blobfish,and this one sounds fantastic too. Love that cover! :)