Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Gifted With . . .

When we enter this world, we have undiscovered potential.  Those closest to us, our family members, may try to steer us toward a generational family tradition or occupation.  They may see us as the next great beekeeper, politician, educator, doctor, grocer, carpenter, chef, clothing designer, gardener, or musher.  Even though the choices seem limitless, the path we follow, according to them, is already defined.

Our gift or gifts do not always align with their desires.  Sometimes, they are the exact opposite of family expectations.  If we are fortunate, we will be supported regardless of which direction we take.  As the monster in Anzu The Great Kaiju (Roaring Brook Press, January 11, 2022) written and illustrated by Benson Shum discovers, sometimes such approval is not quickly or easily earned.

All great kaiju are born with a superpower
to strike fear in the heart of their given city.

Anzu desires to follow in his family's footsteps.  He does have a conspicuous dilemma.  It is hard to 

strike fear in the heart of 

your city when your superpower is of the floral variety.  Yes, Anzu has flower power!  He sees and summons loveliness everywhere.

When Anzu reaches a certain age, he is assigned a city.  He can hardly wait to cause chaos.  His mother and father decide to first demonstrate by example what he needs to do.  He must unleash wild weather and earthly upheaval.

Alas, Anzu conjures up wreaths and necklaces of flowers and a playground appears when he uproots a huge tree.  The residents in his city are wildy ecstatic.  No matter what he does, they get happier and happier.  There is a contrast in the air between  the despondency of some and the pure bliss of others.  What is Anzu to do?

Now, Grandmother steps on the scene.  She tells him to dig deep into the powers passed to him from those of his past.  Anzu does this and there is an enormous resonating sound.  No one is more surprised than Anzu at this result.  Anzu has a decision to make.  Only his heart has the best answer.

With his first sentence, author Benson Shum fills us with anticipation.  When we learn of Anzu's superpower, in light of this statement, we are struck by the incongruity of this monster's situation.  It is a bit humorous, and a lot wonderful.

Anzu's story is told with a mix of added sound effects, conversation, and narrative.  Benson Shum's word choices not only convey the mood of the moment, but bring us into the action with their welcoming cadence.  Each of the family members speaks their truth with affection for one another.  In keeping with the back and forth between rumble-tumble turmoil and flower-power glee, we are privy to the conflict facing Anzu between pleasing one's family and staying true to yourself.  Here is a passage.


Vines and flowers erupted,
twirled and swirled into a
jungle of seesaws and slides.

"A great kaiju should unleash havoc," Dad said.
"NOT happiness."

How can you not want to reach out and hug bold yellow and orange Anzu when seeing him perched on the framed title on the dust jacket?  His happiness is contagious to everything around him as color bursts forth in the form of flowers and butterflies while the tiny residents of his city enjoy the effects of his superpower.  Anzu and the title text box are varnished on the front of the dust jacket.

To the left of the open dust jacket, on the back, is white space.  Above the ISBN at the bottom, two teeny residents are laughing as they balance on a seesaw.  Above them a cascade of flowers spin from left to right.  Toward the top Anzu is placed in a rectangular frame with a teal background.  He is exclaiming 


as flowers come from his mouth.

The book case is a vibrant spring green.  Covering the back and a large portion of the front is an array of flowers in shades of red, purple, pink and yellow with glossy green leaves.  On the front Anzu is lying on his back, smiling and looking at the wonder his superpower has created.

The opening and closing endpapers appear to be an open guidebook on monster superpowers.  Opposite each depiction of the monster is a list of their superpowers.  There are circles around some of the superpowers.  Throughout the pages are hand-drawn stars, hearts and other doodles.


with watercolor and ink and compiled digitally

these illustrations are as spirited as Anzu.  Colorful backgrounds showcase the other cheerful hues.  Black lines accent the glorious selected shades.  Sometimes, on a crisp white background wider lines will frame the text and an image.  A smaller framed visual and text are placed on a double-page picture for maximum effect.  The image sizes reflect the text and focus on the facial expressions and body postures of the characters superbly.  The final two-page picture is wordless and represents the marvelous conclusion.

One of my many favorite illustrations is after Anzu's first attempt at terrifying the citizens of his newly acquired city.  The background is sky blue.  There is a dirt and grassy dirt mounds along the bottom.  Garlands of flowers are floating from the sky in bright colors.  The tiny beings are dancing.  One shouts Hula!  Garlands are on the ground and hanging from the mounds.  Anzu's mother stands to the right of all this merriment, holding a garland and looking distressed.  She is a lot taller and thinner than Anzu, a light teal in color with large white spiny plates down her back.

There comes a time, many times, in our lives when we have to decide what is best for us and best for those around us.  This title, Anzu The Great Kaiju written and illustrated by Benson Shum, shows readers with great joy how to be guided by your heart and to stay true to yourself.  I highly recommend you place a copy in both your personal and professional collections.  This is to be shared often and widely especially as a read aloud.  

To learn more about Benson Shum, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Benson Shum has accounts on multiple social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Benson Shum wrote a guest post this month on author Tara Lazar's Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) during StorystormBenson Shum is interviewed about his work and this title on author Erin Daley's site, author illustrator Jena Benton's site, writer Vivian Kirkfield's site, and Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez's Math is Everywhere.  At the publisher's website you can view multiple interior images.

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