Allow me to explain. Having worked in education, and getting to see kids in their Halloween costumes has turned me into a bit of a Halloween buff. It is one of my most favorite holidays, since it represents a time of year that we can walk around eating candy, for no particular reason. In addition to eating candy without being judged, I loved the fun activities we did with the kids…bobbing for apples, fall carnivals, bake sales or decorating the school hallways with fallen leaves. The kinds of things that bring a little extra joy into kids’ lives.
The kids usually were reluctant to adjust to the cooler temperatures, because it could limit the amount of time spent outside playing, and that sometimes made them a little stir crazy. But the fall sometimes brought out a few of the trickier emotions in some of us grown-ups. too. My younger brother would slap his slight pot-belly, and say that if fall was coming, it was time to start putting on his winter layer…you know, build up the fat reserves for warmth. I think many of us are a little guilty of that…we know winter is coming, with its bundle-inducing weather, and we start to take comfort in food and the couch.
But for some of us, winter brings out not just complacency, but darker moods. Maybe we’re a little grouchier, angrier or a bit sadder. Without the summer sun and the with the added prospect of winter holiday craziness, we might become downright monstrous. Which brings me to the book that I’ve just recently read. I picked it up thinking it would be perfect for Halloween…and it is, but it’s also a story that has a subtle, but powerful message. “The Monsters’ Monster” by Caldecott Award winning writer and illustrator, Patrick McDonnell is a book about three very naughty little monsters, Grouch, Grump and little two-headed Gloom ‘n’ Doom who not only thought they were monsters, but also fought with each other over who was the biggest, baddest monster.
“Their little monster heads were always fill with big monster thoughts.
SMASH! CRASH! and BASH!!!
Huffing and puffing, mad about NOTHING,
their ten favorite words were
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO and NO!”
These miserable, troublesome little monsters whine, complain, fight, and debate and make a tremendous nuisance of themselves high up in their “dark monster castle”. In order to bring an end to the which one of them is the “biggest, baddest monster” argument, they seemingly take a cue from master monster creator Mary Shelley, and with lots of nasty items like “bolts, wire and a smelly old shoe” they make a giant MONSTER monster.
After it is brought to life by a lightning bolt, the three little monsters can’t wait to see him bring destruction and terror to the village. But, the newly born monster has other plans, since he’s simply happy to be alive. In fact, he’s so happy that he scoops up Grouch, Grump and little Gloom ‘n’ Doom into his arms for a hug and to say in his giant monster voice, DANK YOU! The three little monsters go on to watch him betray all of their dreams of mass destruction, preferring instead to visit a bakery, share his donuts with the little monsters while watching a sunset on the beach. The little monsters are so taken aback that the only thing they can think to do is to say thank you back.
What’s so ingenious about this sweet little storybook, is that it’s seemingly simple tale about little monsters is actually a book that provides young readers with a profound introduction to the idea that your attitude towards life is a choice. John Milton said that, “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” These sentiments of gratitude, kindness and choosing to live with a positive attitude aren’t the easiest to teach to children. Especially when we adults sometimes get caught in an undertow of anger or sadness. We forget to look for the lessons from our challenges, or to try to see the potential gifts that a heartache can teach us. Books like this one are so crucial to get into the hands of children, and, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that kids will intuitively pick up on the message in this book.
I’ve mentioned before that I have a group of test subjects (Yes, I experiment on little children, mwahahaha.) who I will either read a book to, or let them read on their own. Before reading this book, I tested it out on a few of the closest kids I could find. Their responses were not at all what I was anticipating. Given that it’s just days until Halloween, and that it’s a book about monsters, I was surprised that each of the three kids who sat down and read the book didn’t immediately start climbing the walls, or try to invade small villages, or well, setting fire to the couches when they were finished reading. Rather, they were quiet, calm, and remarked that they liked the book.
“This is a very good book,” one freckle faced, blue-eyed 8-year-old little girl said to me, and then she said thank you, hugged me and headed out the door with her friends to enjoy their “bribery” cookies.