Friday, October 21, 2011

6. The Monstrous Book of Monsters

Written by Libby Hamilton
Illustrated by Jonny Duddle
and Aleksei Bitskoff
Templar, 2011
$17.99, ages 5-8, 20 pages

As the scariest night of all nights approaches, here's a book to confirm your children's worst fears: the existence of monsters all around them.

Dr. Thomas Jelly, the book's fictional narrator, warns readers, "Don't be fooled," things do go bump in the night and all those sensible people who claim they don't, had better wise up fast…or else.

Just look at the bite taken out of the cover of Jelly's book -- and what about that big jiggling eye at the top? If that's not enough, Jelly offers plenty of flaps and fold-outs to get skin tingling (or should we say, get readers giggling?).

But first, read Jelly's intro, a taped note on the title page. The important phrase to hone in on: "Bravery is overrated." Jelly's advice: The moment readers sense a monster, high-tail it out of wherever they are. Hindsight, after all, is useless if they've been eaten.

Jelly's first spread shows that monsters are especially rampant in the home. Sorry Mom and Dad, they really do live under the bed, not to mention in your refrigerator, under sofa cushions, in toilet bowls, behind wall portraits, in the oven, in bubble baths and of course, in your children's closet.

So what can readers do to avoid getting drooled on or forbid, being eaten? Well, first they need to know how to spot monsters and Jelly's sagest advice: Listen to your gut and it will guide you.

If readers are feeling queasy, Jelly says, that's probably monster breath they're smelling. And if they're having a bad day, they should consider that a monster has caused it, even if they don't want to believe it. After all, denial is the first step to becoming a monster's lunch.

Jelly then offers a few examples of annoying monsters. Among them: the bare-branched Thievintree, which likes to snatch scarves and stick them out of reach, and the Mail O'Masshy that lives in door mail slots and stops at nothing to crumple and tear letters.

Next, Jelly gives basic avoidance strategies. Say a monster is "stupid and bendy," he recommends running in tight circles to tie it in knots. If the monster is slow but still has very large teeth, he advises running forward to tire it out. But if the monster is fast, there's only one thing to do: "run like the dickens" then hide behind the first thing they see.

Of course sometimes running away isn't an option, so readers will have to know how to defend themselves. They can flash a mirror at a monster (even monsters find themselves too hideous to look at), toss a ball (monsters, like dogs, can't resist a game of fetch) or stick their crying baby brother in its face (no monster can stand the wail of a human baby).

But suppose none of those things work? Then and only then, Jelly advises, readers can attempt capture. One of the most successful baits, he says, is monster toe jam, or if that's unavailable, moldy beans or rotting fruit. However, chances are good that a monster will lash back if readers try to catch them, such as spray them with blue gunge or chomp down on an arm. So be careful.

Finally, if readers are successful and manage to catch a monster before it actually snacks on them, Jelly offers a spread on how to dispose of monsters. The key here, he says, is do it fast, though he doesn't explain exactly why, leaving readers' minds to run as wild as they'd like.

Among his suggestions: bury them, flush them, trash them, blend them, whatever they need to do to get rid of hideous parts. Or, if they're so inclined, stuffed their heads and put them on display -- or eat them. He even has a little book of recipes. But if they taste bad? Feed them to pets. After all, monster tentacle makes a great chew toy for dogs.

One look at Jelly's guide to monster identification and avoidance and readers will be feeling the familiar tingle that something big and creepy is near. But of course, creepy in only the most amusing way. Jelly's interactive guide is silly, clever and a bit gross, but as to feeding phobias? Not a chance. This is one's too cute to be scary -- that is, cute in a slobbery, gooey sort of way.

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