Monsters With Manners
October 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
I recently asked my five-year-old son: “What do you think monsters are like?” His answer: “They have big teeth and sharp claws and they eat little kids.” Oh. Well, the good news is that there’s a new(ish) genre afoot in children’s literature: not-too-scary scary stories (my recent posts on Creepy Carrots and Vampirina Ballerina are great examples). There are also some fantastic monster-themed books, featuring a new generation of what I will call Funny Monsters.
What makes kids find the monsters in these books so funny? Precisely because our little ones, occasionally monstrous themselves, can identify with these monsters’ unpredictable bursts of rage and destruction. On some level, they recognize a shared vulnerability, a shared quest to fit in and make sense of a complex world.
Author and illustrator Patrick McDonnell (best known for his Mutts comic strip) has a knack for creating deceptively simple picture books that get right to the heart of what it means to be human. In the beginning of his brand new The Monsters’ Monster (Ages 3-7), we are introduced to three tiny nay-saying monsters, named Grouch, Grump, and little Gloom ‘n’ Doom (how can you not immediately love this book?). The trio relishes their job of being monsters: they have tantrums, their favorite word is “NO,” and they love crashing, smashing, and bashing (sound familiar yet?).
Not content with their mini-sized monstrosity, the three set out to construct a bigger and badder monster, a beast that can smash through walls and wreak havoc on their “monster-fearing village.” They collaborate on what becomes a giant (and rather cute) Frankenstein-of-sorts. But though he looks the part, it quickly becomes clear that their protégé doesn’t see himself as a monster—no one has type cast him in that roll yet. His first words are “Dank You!” He makes friends with the spiders and bats that live in the shadows of the castle. And he walks into town to pick up doughnuts for his very perplexed creators.
At the end of the book, Grouch, Grump, and Gloom ‘n’ Doom find themselves on the beach, watching their first sunrise and munching doughnuts alongside this Big Bad Non-Monster. In that small moment, they find their manners—they utter their first “thank you”s—and they partake in the gratitude and joy that follows. “So, JP, now do you see that monsters are actually not mean and terrible creatures but a lot like us?” “Yeah, Mommy. But not real monsters. Only the ones in books.” Well, that’s something at least.
Other Favorites with Funny (and endearing) Monsters:
Even Monsters Need Haircuts, by Matthew McElligott (Ages 4-8)
Boris and Bella, by Carolyn Crimi & Gris Grimly (Ages 4-8)
Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, by Adam Rex (Ages 7-12)