Posts tagged Caldecott

The Monsters’ Monster and Frankenstein: Two wickedly fun picture books for Halloween.

Monster's Monster

The Monsters’ Monster

Picture Book

Ages 2-7

By Patrick McDonnell

32 pages

Little, Brown



Patrick McDonnell’s picture book, Me…Jane, was a 2012 Caldecott Honor book. Taking anecdotes from Jane Goodall’s autobiography, he tells the story of Goodall’s childhood, her beloved toy chimpanzee and her early fascination with the natural world. It is a splendid and captivating book and one I highly recommend.  The Monsters’ Monster is charmingly sweet and another must have from this creator. His art is luscious, and his storytelling is pitch perfect.

Three (rather small) monsters—Grouch, Grump and Gloom ‘n’ Doom—lived together in a dark castle high atop a monster-y mountain. Every day the three brutish beasts would argue over which of them was the loudest complainer, or the most miserable.


They decided the best way to settle their argument was to build the biggest, baddest monster ever. The three fiends gathered tape and staples, gunk and goo, bolts and wires and assembled a monster Monster and brought him to life with a great bolt of lightening. (The diminutive size of the comic and adorable monsters is spotlighted by the humongous size of their Frankenstein-y creation.)

The three giddy monsters could barely contain their excitement as the growling giant stumbled toward them.


“And then in a deep, booming voice, he said his first words . . . ‘Dank you!’”

The monster’s Monster, built to be a big, bad menace, was anything but. He was so happy to be alive he threw open a window and giggled. Next he greeted every bat, rat, spider and snake in the castle. When he crashed straight through the castle wall and went down to the village below, Monster’s architects followed in amazement.


Anticipating the monster’s first terrible act, the trio watched as Monster lumbered into the bakery, and awaited the screams and howls that would certainly follow. But after some silence, all they heard was, “Dank you!”

Then Monster clomped out carrying a paper bag and headed toward the beach; Grouch, Grump and Gloom ‘n’ Doom followed after him. When Monster arrived at the beach he sat down in the cool sand. Shortly after, the three perplexed and tired monsters collapsed around him. Then Monster gently patted them on their heads and gave them each a warm, powdered jelly doughnut from his bag.


At first the three brutes were stunned into silence but then they repeated what they’d learned from Monster. “Thank you!” they said, and the four friends sat and quietly watched the sunrise and none of them thought about how monstrous they could be.



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Frankenstein: A Monstrous ParodyFrankenstein

Based on Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Ludworst Bemonster

(By Rick Walton & Nathan Hale)

48 pages

Feiwel and Friends



For readers not familiar with the picture book Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans—which was published in 1939 and received a Caldecott Honor—it features a fearless young girl that lives under the tutelage of Miss Clavel, a concerned and doting nun, with eleven other girls. “The smallest one was Madeline.”


One night Miss Clavel senses a disturbance in the house and soon discovers Madeline in distress. The wee girl is rushed to the hospital and promptly has her appendix removed.

Some days later, Miss Clavel and the girls go to visit Madeline in the hospital. The girls covet the toys and candy that fill Madeline’s room but when they see her scar from the surgery they are beside themselves with envy.


That night after Miss Clavel turned out the light, she, once again, knew something was not right. As she entered the room all the little girls cried, “Boohoo, we want to have our appendix out, too!”

In this delightful parody, the completely adorable main character lives in a creepy old castle with eleven other equally cute monsters. “The ugliest one was Frankenstein.” In the spirit of all things Halloween, the artist uses a variety of orange hues (the illustrations in Madeline were awash in yellow).


“One bleak and dark and dismal night, Miss Devel turned on her light and whispered, ‘Something is not right.’”


She soon discovers that Frankenstein has lost his head! He’s quickly taken to the laboratory. Upon awakening, the formerly decapitated monster finds he’s been given a brand new head, bolted on with two shiny, metal screws. Without delay Frankenstein eats most of the hospital staff, the ceiling fan and a pizza man.


Days later, Miss Devel and her motley pack of monsters visit Frankenstein at the lab. Though they’re jealous of all of his yucky treats, it’s the neck bolts that prompt them to beg to stay. “But Miss Devel replied, ‘No way!’”

Later that night, back at the castle, Miss Devel knows something is amiss once more. Rushing to the monsters’ room she hopes for no more disasters. She opens the gate to discover that all of the monsters have lost their heads!


“Good night, monsters! Now you cannot whine and yell! I’m going back to sleep.”


Most parody picture books don’t deliver on their promise to entertain. They either fall flat or are entertaining for one reading only—but Frankenstein is a wonderful exception to that rule. Fans of Madeline, monsters or Halloween will giggle with glee at this hysterical and thorough parody.


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The Ant and the Elephant by Bill Peet: There’s strength in numbers.


The Ant and the Elephant

Picture Book

Ages 4-10

By Bill Peet

48 pages

Houghton Mifflin




Bill Peet (1915 – 2002) wrote and illustrated 36 books (most of which remain in print) and I truly love them all. His books are sublime. Full of humor, compassion, and warmth, his stories often focus on friendship, kindness and respect for the environment. Yet Peet was never condescending or didactic, he held his audience in high esteem. That his lengthy, complex books still hold the attention of today’s easily distracted children is a testament to his connection to young minds.

Peet’s lavish, enchanting art was created with colored pencils, pastels and India ink. His illustrations are colorful, detailed, expressive and whimsical. His wholly satisfying books are fantastical journeys into strange yet familiar lands featuring lovable, sympathetic characters (usually animals).

Prior to publishing his first book, Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure (1959), Peet worked for Disney Studios (he was there from 1937 to 1964). He worked on several of Disney’s most famous films, including Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jungle Book (though his work on that film went uncredited due to a dispute with Walt Disney).

Peet also created the first Disney film to come from a single storywriter, 101 Dalmatians—based on the book by Dodie Smith. He wrote the script, created the storyboards and designed the characters. It was Bill Peet who created the iconic Disney villain that so many people (myself included) love to hate, Cruella de Vil.

Cruella Deville

Isn’t she just perfectly evil?

Because of Peet’s work with Disney there’s a familiarity to his art; once readers begin to recognize his style, it becomes easy to spot his creations in the films he worked on.


The Ant and The Elephant is a twist on Aesop’s The Lion and the Mouse, in which a meek, small character is remarkably able to help a large, strong character.

While climbing a long blade of grass for a better view of the river, a small ant finds himself in a predicament after being blown by the wind. The minute creature lands on a stick in the middle of the river. He would surely drown if he tried to get to the shore himself, so he asks a nearby turtle for assistance; the grumpy turtle cannot be bothered to help.


Soon enough the turtle finds himself in a bit of a bind, having tipped onto his back while trying to climb onto a rock.


He asks a nearby hornbill for a hand and receives a response quite similar to the one he gave the ant.

TheAnt&TheElephant 1-001

And so it goes down the line through several unhelpful—and perhaps shortsighted—African animals, until readers are introduced to the noble elephant. He hears so much with his large ears, “the faint rustle of a leaf, the least snap of a twig, or even the tiny voice of an ant calling.”


The accommodating elephant, having heard all the events of the day, makes his way to the river to assist the miniscule creature. He offers the trapped ant his trunk; the grateful ant crawls on and is deposited safely on the shore of the river.


The elephant continues on, helping each of the helpless—and shockingly ungrateful—creatures along the way.

Soon it is the elephant that finds himself in a disabled position; he’s fallen into a ravine.

TheAnt&TheElephant 2

He calls for help and waits and waits. As the sun sets, the elephant hears the sound of tiny footsteps. Soon, ninety-five thousand ants arrive to help him!


They successfully lift the giant beast and carry him up the wall and onto flat ground. And in return all of the ants climb aboard their new, grateful friend for their first ever elephant ride!

TheAnt&TheElephant 1-002


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The Story of Little Babaji by Helen Bannerman and Fred Marcellino: a perfect update to a classic story.


The Story of Little Babaji

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Helen Bannerman

Illustrated by Fred Marcellino

72 pages





Helen Bannerman (1862-1946), the author and illustrator of The Story of Little Black Sambo (published in 1899), lived in India for several years; the basis for the story came from illustrated letters she wrote to her children during her time there. Though “sambo” was a term used throughout the 1800s it seems to have risen to its now well-known racist usage in the first half of the 1900s, perhaps in part owed to this story.

The Story of Little Black Sambo has been a point of controversy for nearly as long as it’s been in print. The story itself obviously took place in India, featuring tigers and ghee, or clarified butter, but Bannerman’s art featured an offensively caricatured black child.


Despite being married to some highly objectionable art, the story itself features a wonderfully clever and brave boy who outwits four hungry tigers to escape the jungle without being eaten. I did not understand the connotations of the word “sambo” as a child, and I loved the story. It was included in Volume 2 of the My Book House series and featured illustrations of distinctly Indian characters.


I loved all the fancy clothes and their vivid colors. I was fascinated by the idea of the tigers turning into butter, and then being used on pancakes, and eaten! And the number of pancakes the family consumed, two hundred and fifty-one, astounded me.

The Story of Little Black Sambo has been retold many times. The Story of Little Babaji, illustrated by Fred Marcellino (1939-2001), was published the same year as another retelling, Sam and the Tigers, by Julius Lester and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. In Lester and Pinkney’s version, a whole new story is fashioned and takes place in the fictional village of Sam-sam-sa-mara, where everyone is named Sam.

In general, I object to publishers altering or removing what is, now, deemed to be offensive material from books. In addition to the fundamental danger of hiding a rightfully shameful past, these books provide an opportunity to see how attitudes have evolved. Historically speaking, I think it’s important to be aware of the original book, with all its faults.

Marcellino’s version adheres to the original tale; he simply changed the names of the characters and created art to reflect the story’s Indian setting. He also chose a trim size (6.5 in x 6.5 in), close to that of the original book (4 in x 6 in). This decidedly improved edition is a beautifully designed book and a wonderful story worth sharing.

Fred Marcelino illustrated several children’s books; in 1991 his lavishly illustrated version of Charles Perrault’s Puss in Boots received a Caldecott Honor. Its striking cover bore no title and featured a gorgeous illustration of a finely dressed cat.


Marcelino’s stylish watercolor art in the Story of Little Babaji is lighter and airier. Each exquisitely delicate and lively illustration is rendered in a wide-ranging, joyful palette. The highly detailed art alternates between being elegantly simple, with no background, and lusciously full, showing the surrounding environs.


“Once upon a time there was a little boy, and his name was Little Babaji. And his mother was called Mamaji. And his father was called Papaji.”


Mamaji made Babaji a fine red coat and a pair of lovely blue trousers. Papaji bought him an ample green umbrella and a lovely pair of purple shoes.

“And then wasn’t Little Babaji grand?”


After donning all his new items, Babaji went for a walk. Before long he encountered a tiger who threatened to eat him! Babaji pleaded with the tiger and offered his fine red coat in exchange for his life. The vain tiger accepted the deal and walked away declaring, “Now I’m the grandest tiger in the jungle.”

Babaji escaped unharmed but in no time at all his path crossed with another tiger who also threatened to eat him. This time Babaji surrendered his blue trousers to remain uneaten. Now a second tiger was claiming to be the grandest in the jungle.


Babaji continued on his way and soon came face to face with another hungry tiger. When Babaji offered to trade his lovely purple shoes for freedom the tiger responded that he had no use for two shoes when he has four feet. But Babaji convinced the foolish tiger to wear the shoes on his ears. Another vain beast marched off announcing his grand status.

When Babaji met the fourth (and final) tiger, he had only his umbrella left to offer and since tigers have no hands to carry umbrellas, Babaji tied it to the tiger’s tail.


“And poor Little Babaji went away crying, because the cruel tigers had taken all his fine clothes.”

Before Little Babaji could reach safety he heard the tigers growling nearby; the growling grew louder. Babaji hid behind a palm tree and spied the tigers—all in their fine new items—arguing over which of them was the grandest in the jungle. The tigers removed their adornments in a fury and began clawing and biting each other; forming a circle around the tree, each tiger grabbed hold of another by the tail.

Babaji4 1

While the vicious creatures were otherwise occupied, Babaji retrieved his things and rushed off to a safe distance, where he magnanimously provided the opportunity for the giant cats to reclaim their items! But the tigers were too angry and refused to let go of each other’s tails and Little Babaji re-dressed in all his resplendent finery and walked off unscathed.


Meanwhile the tigers, still bound in a circle by tails and teeth, began chasing each other faster and faster until they were a blur of orange and black; then the tigers ran so fast that they melted away into a pool of ghee (though this is the common spelling, in the book it’s spelled ghi).


As it happened, Papaji was on his way home from work and came upon the beautiful buttery pool and scooped it all into the brass pot he was carrying. He brought it home for Mamaji who used the ghee to make a pancake feast for the whole family. The pancakes “were just as yellow and brown as little tigers” and “Little Babaji ate a hundred and sixty-nine, because he was so hungry.”


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