“There’s nothing more toxic or deadly than a human child. A single touch could kill you. Leave a door open, and one can walk right into this factory, right into the monster’s world.” — Henry J. Waternoose, Monsters Inc.
A 40-page picture book “for audiences as young as 3 and as old as 36,” Mo Willems’ Leonardo The Terrible Monster tells the “exceptional tale of an unexceptional monster” named, well, Leonardo! Because this book targets kids aged 3-7, Leonardo the Terrible Monster is your classic picture book with a few words, which is something I like about picture books. It doesn’t matter if words don’t fill the space because the funny illustrations make up for it.
Leonardo is considered a terrible monster because he is terrible at being a monster. He couldn’t scare anyone. To illustrate my point:
He didn’t have 1,642* teeth, like Tony.
*Note: Not all teeth shown.
He wasn’t big, like Eleanor.
Of course, he put on his best efforts to be scary. But… He just wasn’t. So what he did was to research about scaring kids and look for the best candidate to scare the tuna salad out of him! His research effort paid off because he found – Sam.
Little Sam, with his neatly-combed blonde hair and a pair of glasses, did not know what he was in for. Leonardo snuck up on the poor, unsuspecting boy. He gave it all he had. Blaggggle Blaggle!! Hah! Grrrrr… Rooaarr!! Until the little boy cried. “I did it! I’ve finally scared the tuna salad out of someone!” Indeed, Leonardo the Terrible Monster felt victorious.
But little Sam cried not because Leonardo “scared the tuna salad out of him.” He cried because… Well, that’s a long explanation. And I mean looooooong, coming from a little boy.
“My mean big brother stole my action figure right out of my hands while I was still playing with it, and then he broke it on purpose, and it was my favorite toy, and I tried to fix it but I couldn’t so I got so mad I kicked the table and I stubbed my toe on the same foot that I hurt last month when I accidentally slipped in the bathtub after I got some soap in my eyes trying to wash out the bird poop that my brother’s cockatoo pooped on my head and I don’t have any friends and my tummy hurts!”
(Yes, that entire quote is, technically, one statement.) And so, Leonardo did what no monsters have done before. Instead of trying to be good at being a terrible monster, he decided to become a wonderful friend.
This leads me to our next book, The Big Bad Wolf and Me by Delphine Perret.
I was actually saving this for a different feature, but after reading Leonardo the Terrible Monster I realized the two books go together. Quite amusing since Teacher Myra has just recently posted a Haunting Tales double feature. Like Leonardo the Terrible Monster, The Big Bad Wolf and Me is minimalist in presentation, although the latter has a more cartoonish style to it—more pencil than watercolor art.
The flap jacket of the book starts with a question that gives readers a general idea of what the story is about—
“If you found the Big Bad Wolf looking very sad on your way home from school, would you just run away? Or would you cheer him up with chocolate chip cookies and let him sleep in your closet?”
And so begins the love-hate relationship of two unlikely characters, the Big Bad Wolf and the little boy whose penchant for the unusual made him decide to help the Big Bad Wolf live up to his name. As the story moves along, we find out that the Wolf’s name is Bernard. The little boy refused to call him that because it happens to be the same name of his great-uncle who smells like soap. So he called him Zorro. (LOL.)
The little boy kept Zorro in his closet, and would feed him chocolate chip cookies. For days, Zorro was under the little boy’s tutelage. From making the perfect roar to practicing five scary faces every day, the little boy made certain that Zorro would become the meanest Big Bad Wolf he ought to be.
“Sometimes I had to cheer him up when he was feeling discouraged. After all, Zorro was my friend. Sometimes, we both wanted to be the boss. Most of the time, we had lots of fun.”
Eventually they made so much progress that, one day, the little boy found himself being chased by the Big Bad Wolf on his way to school. He ran along the streets, around the school yard, and out of the school property. The little kids in his school were dumbfounded, and when they didn’t see a trace of the little boy and the Big Bad Wolf, they all screamed and scampered off.
As they sat on a park bench after that arduous chase, the little boy congratulated the Big Bad Wolf for doing such an amazing job. How pleased the Big Bad Wolf was! The best part of the story was when the little boy told the Big Bad Wolf, “If I ever get a dog, I would definitely name him Bernard.”
Good Monsters vs Bad Monsters. Monsters are not new to children. From picture books to movies to real life, monsters are, whether you like it or not, part of a child’s life. Monsters come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. They are everywhere! In the closet, in the attic, up the tree, down the basement, and under the bed to name a few. But they have been labeled as merely being scary, unforgiving creatures who would eat a child.
These two featured books showed otherwise. They gave a different portrayal of monsters by introducing a new concept—their relationship with kids. (Yes, in this regard, I consider the Big Bad Wolf part of the umbrella category of “monsters.”) Leonardo the Terrible Monster specifically reminded me of Disney Pixar’s Monsters, Inc which I love dearly. Tales such as these give monsters a more human element in the form of emotions, giving them a chance to say, “Stop humans! Not all monsters are evil.”
While the existence of bad monsters are still being reinforced in books and movies, children are also becoming more accepting to the existence of good monsters. As a charming example, read these blog posts by first-time dad Sky Bluesky which I came across by accident while doing my “monster research.”
Friendship in Its Unlikely Form. While Leonardo the Terrible Monster is more “monstrous” in form and presentation, The Big Bad Wolf and Me, on the other hand, is more friendship-focused. It is fun to see picture books whose stories involve friendship between two unlikely individuals, testimonial to the fact that friendship transcends boundaries. It teaches children the value of friendship and appreciation of other beings, humans and non-humans alike.
The nice thing about The Big Bad Wolf and Me is that it does not sugar coat the idea of friendship. It shows that friends go through ups and downs, that they’re not always on the same page. Yet, in spite of that, they still remain friends.
The Monster Within. As a concluding note, let me just say that there are monsters inside all of us. However, it is in the choices that we make and the things that we do that define our character. Believe me when I say it’s harder to be good than it is to be bad.
Notes About the Authors.
In his first act, Mo Willems won six Emmy Awards for his writing stint on Sesame Street. He then went on to perform the lead as head writer for Codename: Kids Next Door. Mo’s animated films have been screened at festivals around the world and his drawings have been exhibited at the Museum of Radio and Television and at the Library of Congress. His previous engagements include Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale which was awarded the 2004 and 2005 Caldecott Honor Books, respectively.
You may visit his blog and view his bubble-gum worthy crafts at http://mowillemsstuff.blogspot.com/.
Author-illustrator Delphine Perret was born in 1980 in France, where she still lives. She discovered the bliss of fine chocolate, and became inspired to create books for young readers. She is the mastermind behind six books published in France. The Big Bad Wolf and Me is her first book to be published in the United States.
*All book photos taken by me
**Notes from the author taken from the book flaps.