August 24, 2017


Big Sister, Little Monster. By Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum. Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic. $17.99.

Mary McScary. By R.L. Stine. Illustrated by Marc Brown. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $16.99.

     What big sister hasn’t sometimes thought her little sister was a monster? Lucy certainly does in Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum’s Big Sister, Little Monster. And Lucy has plenty of justification for her feelings, as Edwin Fotheringham shows in illustrations that manage to capture the girls’ cutely freckled faces and significantly contrasting personalities equally well. Mia is on all the time, bouncing and running and getting in Lucy’s way when Lucy wants some quiet bike-riding or reading time. Things would be so much better if Mia would only take her monstrous self somewhere else! And that is just what Mia does after Lucy, sloppily kissed by a frog that Mia has found somewhere, demands that her little sister “GO AWAY!!!” But where has Mia gone? At first, Lucy does not care, but after a while, she realizes that being alone all the time is no better than being tailed and trailed all the time. She decides that she has to find Mia – but Mia really seems to have disappeared. Then Lucy finds “a strange door drawn on Mia’s wall,” and the door opens to reveal – monsters!!!! Yes, they are all there, drooling warty multi-eyed big-toothed monsters, and right in the middle of them is Mia, playing and having a great time. And the monsters want nothing to do with Lucy, who timidly enters their realm and finds out that Mia is in fact the monsters’ queen. Mia is “rule-free and ready to romp,” the monsters say, and Lucy is nothing like that, so the monsters intend to keep Mia with them forever and ever! After all, the monsters tell Lucy – echoing her own words and thoughts – Mia is “messy” and “pesky” and a “pint-sized pest,” and Lucy is none of those things and doesn’t belong with the monsters or with Mia. Well, that is more than Lucy can stand, and she searches for and quickly finds “her INNER monster” – in one of Fotheringham’s best capture-the-mood drawings. Lucy roars her demand to get Mia back so loudly that she scares all the monsters away, and soon Lucy and Mia are bouncing around, enjoying each other, acting like “little monsters” sometimes and like loving sisters at other times. There is nothing really scary in Big Sister, Little Monster – the cartoony monsters are clearly just drawings that Mia has made with the crayons we see her carrying, and the door to their “lair” is just a crayons-on-wall drawing as well. But the realistic love/hate (or love/frustration) relationship between an older and younger sister is so well explored here, and so nicely shown, that the book is both touching and monstrously entertaining.

     The girls in Big Sister, Little Monster may not really intend anything frightening, but R.L. Stine’s Mary McScary does want to scare people. And not just people: she even scares dogs, goldfish and balloons! As Stine repeatedly reminds readers, “Beware of Mary McScary!” But Mary, whose chilly expressions even have cats and mice cringing, has a problem: there is one person she cannot scare. That is her cousin, Harry. And Harry is coming to visit Mary’s family. What to do? Surely there is some way Mary can scare Harry! Stine certainly has plenty of ideas – which are very entertainingly illustrated by Marc Brown. First Mary dresses up in a costume right out of Where the Wild Things Are, but Harry, perched on his scooter, only comments that she has a nice hairdo. Then Mary sends a batch of big-eyed giant spiders toward Harry – who finds them “so cute and cuddly” that Mary gets frustrated. So she engages the services of a “wild and ferocious gorilla” (which also looks a bit like one of the Wild Things) – but Harry lets the gorilla ride his scooter as Harry clings to the smiling ape’s back. Clearly Mary has to do more. And she tries; she really does try. But Harry is not in the last scared by snakes (which Stine wrongly describes as “slippery, slimy” – he of all authors should know that snakes are not slimy at all) or by a giant, hungry, purple hippopotamus. Nothing scares Harry! So finally Mary McScary gives up – but then she has some sort of awful, terrible idea, and it is a big one, as is made clear by Brown’s illustration, an extreme close-up of Mary’s face spread across two pages. So Mary tells Harry he wins – and she puckers up to kiss him. And that terrifies Harry so much that he runs screaming all the way through the house and out the front door!  OK, OK, the whole thing is silly and, in our current everyone-is-offended-by-everything society, is sure to make some people accuse Stine of sexism or something. Those people should not read Mary McScary or look at (much less enjoy) Mary’s self-satisfied expression after Harry runs outdoors. But readers whose sensitivity has not been eternally preheated to the boiling point will laugh at Mary’s “solution” to the how-to-scare-Harry “problem” and her so-happy face on the last page – where even the cat and mouse that have appeared throughout the book show they think Mary’s manipulations are monstrously marvelous.

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