Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Call Him Monster

In all honesty, I had nearly forgotten these perfect little books. Did you forget them, too? Early readers from 1973 that I adored and moved on from, without further thought-- until I discovered some vintage paperback copies in my Mother-In-Law's collection of kids books she still has from her days as a public school teacher. But I recognized them at once, like meeting an old friend, and knew I needed to find the whole lot for myself. There are 12 little volumes in the Monster Book series written by Ellen Blance and Ann Cook, and illustrated by the incomparable Quentin Blake. And they are perfectly delightful... I can't confirm this, but I am sure they were written with input from young kids, as the writing style is so breezy and quirky, and extremely child-like, which is hard to fake (see above and below). Blake's drawings match the tone so perfectly, it's like a natural formation. It should come as no surprize that the series is considered a cult classic, and that it's become somewhat hard to find. I lucked into 8 hardcover 2nd printings recently, and it got me all excited again. The slim individual titles are like chapter books that follow Monster as he moves to the city, finds a home, a friend, and a magic umbrella, amoung other things. The official checklist is: Monster Comes to the City, Monster Looks for a House, Monster Cleans His House, Monster Looks for a Friend, Monster Meets Lady Monster, Monster and the Magic Umbrella, Monster Goes to the Museum, Monster on the Bus, Monster Goes to School, Monster Has a Party, and Monster Goes to the Zoo. It's impossible to deduce how much these early readers (along with the work of Sendak and Mayer) impressed me as a child, or how much they guided my future development, but I wouldn't underestimate the influence. I loved Monster then, and I sure love Monsters now!