September 21, 2017

(++++) MONSTROUS AMUSEMENTS


Grimelda and the Spooktacular Pet Show. By Diana Murray. Illustrated by Heather Ross. Kathrine Tegen/HarperCollins. $16.99.

I Love You More Than the Smell of Swamp Gas. By Kevan Atteberry. Harper. $17.99.

Even Monsters Need to Sleep. By Lisa Wheeler. Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $17.99.

     Grimelda, a cute but messy young witch, has a monstrous problem in Grimelda and the Spooktacular Pet Show, and her pet cat, Wizzlewarts, is only part of it. Wizzlewarts isn’t especially spooktacular, so Grimelda goes hunting for a pet to outdo all the others, including the dragon, Blaze, that belongs to Grimelda’s neighbor, Hildegard. Initially, Grimelda decides that Wizzlewarts would be quite spooktacular with a little magical help, but unfortunately, her home is so messy that she cannot find her spell book anywhere – so she has to search elsewhere in Cobweb Town for just the right pet. Diana Murray’s rhyming text and Heather Ross’ just-right illustrations make the quest into quite a spooktacle….err, spectacle. At the local store, the one available pet, a “hairy mountain boar” (a tiny one in purple, with big horns) isn’t spooktacular enough, so Grimelda heads outdoors, where she finds an adorable baby dragon (“too cute”), a huge-eyed something-or-other (“too pink”), a scowling bat (“too plain”), and a bug waving hello (“too small”). But then she finds just the right thing, “a monster eel/ With spiky fins and huge fangs, too.” Except – uh-oh. It is maybe a little too spooktacular, and is not happy about being disturbed. So Grimelda speeds home, slams the door, and is about to give up when Wizzlewarts finds the spell book, open to just the right page. So off Grimelda and the cat go to the pet show – where Grimelda’s learns a lesson about messiness as she smudges the page with the spell she wants to use, cannot read it properly, and ends up transforming Wizzlewarts into an utterly adorable cutie-pie little pink kitten. Disaster! But not quite: that ultra-scary monstrous eel suddenly shows up, Wizzlewarts shows that even cute pinkness does not deter him from protecting Grimelda, and eventually everything is happily sorted out and Grimelda wins a prize that includes “fifty bags of Batnip Snacks” for Wizzlewarts. Messiness lesson learned? Not really – but Grimelda’s charm overcomes her neatness-challenged lifestyle.

     The monsters themselves take center stage in Kevan Atteberry’s I Love You More Than the Smell of Swamp Gas. The stage here is a swamp – a dark and stinky one in which a father monster and child monster are on a skink hunt before bedtime. Just like human children, the little monster wants to know if his parent loves him as much as, or more than, this or that. It is the specific “this and that” examples that provide the amusement here. One little-monster question, for example, is, “Do you love me as much/ as the BUBBLING SLIME/ that covers our feet/ in a THICK GOOEY GRIME?” And papa monster replies in kind: “I treasure you more/ than the SLOW OOZING MUCK/ squished through our toes/ as we pull them unstuck.” You can imagine what sorts of illustrations accompany these words – but you do not have to imagine them, since Atteberry provides them, again and again. The monsters encounter bloodsucking ducks, a gas-spraying purple-horned skunk, mummified bass, toe-biting stones, and other denizens of the deep, dark, dismal, and delightful (to the monsters) swamp. Again and again, the little monster asks if his papa loves him more than whatever thing they happen to encounter, and again and again, the big monster assures and reassures the little one. Atteberry’s funniest illustration shows the two monsters, still chasing the elusive skink, watching a spider parade in a graveyard whose headstones memorialize, among others, “Winnie the Boo,” “Little Skunky Foo Foo,” “Edgar Allen Potato,” “Batticus Finch” and “Pogo.” Yes, just Pogo – that and the Finch reference are ones that kids and even some parents may have to look up. Eventually, back home and skinkless (which does not seem to bother either papa or child), it is time for “a bowl full of bees/ drizzled with SLIME and/ sprinkled with FLEAS,” and then bed in a room decorated with plush versions of many of the creatures previously encountered on the swamp trek. It is all in monstrously good fun.

     After all, monsters really do need their rest, which is the point of Lisa Wheeler’s Even Monsters Need to Sleep, whose cover shows a big blue scowling papa monster chasing a cute little nightshirted child monster, with two-headed doll in hand, toward the bedroom. Here too the bedroom d├ęcor is suitably monstrous, although Chris Van Dusen also includes some decidedly non-monstrous elements, such as a yellow duckie nightlight and a book-within-this-book from which papa monster reads about what other monsters do at night. Bigfoot, for example, “hugs his wooby extra tight,” and three-legged aliens in UFOs “wear fuzzy-wuzzy bedtime clothes,” and a yeti makes a snow cone for a bedtime snack, and a cloud-dwelling giant “whines and cries” and brings a rainy downpour to the land below before going to sleep while sucking his thumb. The most-amusing part of Even Monsters Need to Sleep comes after the papa monster reads about all the other monsters and how they get their rest, when Wheeler reverses the usual check-under-the-bed-for-monsters idea: “Monsters have a bedtime, too./ Their dad sings them a song or two,/ then checks beneath the bed for YOU!/ Even monsters need to sleep.” And it is that last line, repeated with variations from the start of the book to the finish, that Even Monsters Need to Sleep is all about. It is a message communicated amusingly enough to keep monster-loving little humans involved throughout the book and, hopefully, get them ready to drop off to rest (after a suitable under-the-bed check) when the story is over.

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