Review of the Day: Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer
After a certain point the sheer number of princess and fairy books a children’s librarian has to handle begins to feel oppressive. The crushing weight of all that pink and all that glitter and all those bows . . . you begin to feel great waves of pity for those little girls who AREN’T into all those things. The kinds of little girls you might find in books like Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t). Where are the books for the little girl monsters of the world? Enter Mostly Monsterly a book that contains no princesses. No fairies. No glitter or bows or pink (excepting the occasional pig-tailed monster). That said, I’d bet your bottom dollar that you could hand this book to a princess-obsessed little girl OR a little boy who obsesses over single subject picture books, and still manage to capture their attention and win their hearts. It’s cute, this book, but never makes even the slightest attempts to cloy.
Look, no one’s saying that Bernadette is not a monster. She looks the part (two toes, creepy necklace, etc.) and does the requisite amount of lurching, growling, and mayhem. However, Bernadette harbors what you might call a “deep… dark… secret.” She has a penchant for sweetness. Whether it’s petting kittens or baking muffins, she is only “mostly” monsterly. So when Bernadette starts school with the other monsters you might think she’d try to reign in her cutesy qualities. Not so much. Her classmates, in fact, are horrified as one when they see her attempt a group hug or croon into a microphone. Her cupcakes don’t go over any better, and Bernadette comes to realize that though she is only mostly monsterly, sometimes you have to meet others halfway. So she’ll make everyone in the class cards… but they’ll be gross. And she’ll get a group hug…. Underneath a monster pile-on. Sometimes she’s monsterly and sometimes she’s sweet and both are perfectly a-okay when doled out carefully.
Some folks see this as a parable about learning to be true to yourself, and I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. I’m more interested in the fact that this story is about how Bernadette doesn’t continue to pig-headedly act against the will of the crowd, but rather she realizes that compromise is key. She could have just decided all other monsters were wrong and that she was right and continued to bake cupcakes with sprinkles. Instead, she finds a kind of middle ground with the other monsters. That monsterish instincts do not preclude other instincts as well. Note too the lack of any kind of an authority figure on the part of both the author and the illustrator. Sauer certainly doesn’t make any mention of a teacher or professor holding Bernadette accountable for her individuality. Instead, Sauer (and Magoon by extension) make this a book about a kid interacting with her peers. It’s about how you’re perceived by a group, not how you’re perceived by an authority figure. I think that’s an important distinction to make.
Magoon’s challenge, as I see it, was to find a way to make his little monster simultaneously monsterish and adorable. We don’t know the extent to which Sauer and Magoon collaborated (generally speaking authors and illustrators of picture books tend to have very little contact with one another). So it is entirely conceivable that Sauer’s description of Bernadette (“Pointy ears, fangs, claws, tail, two toes, huge eyes, creepy necklace”) were all Mr. Magoon had to go on. After that point he had to create a girl child monster cute enough to make her softer instincts plausible but monsterish enough to convince you that you weren’t dealing with a human child or anything. He does a pretty darn good job, I have to say. The eyelashes and Ramona-esque haircut help but really it’s the facial and body expressions that set her apart from the pack. That coy glance she shoots a rope, knowing full well that she is just moments away from cutting it. Or the sideways excited glance she shoots her classmates when they first spot her homemade cards. There’s a subtlety to this little monster, even in the midst of her school assigned havoc.
I would hand this to the girl that finds herself in a family of brothers only. I would hand it to the kid who finds his or herself to be the only sane person in a sea of disobeying twits. I’d give it to the kid who has monsterish instincts of their own, and the one who would never purposefully disobey but can at least give themselves permission to dream about it a little. Heck, I’d give it to everybody. It’s not your usual “be yourself” moral, and I think that kids can seriously appreciate that. Worth inspecting closely.
On shelves now.
- Final copy sent from publisher for review.
- For the most in-depth look at this book, including behind-the-scenes sketches and discussions with the book’s author, illustrator AND editor you know where to go. It’s Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast time.
- Tammi also has a lot of nice things to say about word choice in picture books over at the Cynsations blog.
- Want Bernadette’s cupcake recipe? Well now you can have it. Just scroll down.
- And whattaya know? Mostly Monsterly appears to have its own little online apparel store to boot. Huh!
There is, as it happens, a book trailer for this title as well.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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