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Thematic Reading List: Monsters!

Written by Lewis Carroll
Illustrated by Graeme Base
Harry N. Abrams, 1989
32 pages

Graeme Base's take on this classic poem is eye-poppingly good. His pop-up book rendition of Jabberwocky fire-breathes new life into the old tale. The paper cut-out are layered three times, each time with new imagery and scene. This triple-imagery creates not only more complex imagery, but also more layering to the poem, as it were. Base's vision of the Jabberwocky seems more absurd than scary, but, seeing as this is a children's book, that's probably a good idea. That said, with bulging eyes and a huge orange beak, with sharp white fangs and repitalian claws, Base does in fact create a monster. But alas: we forgot the language! I forgot how lively and interesting, how sound based and folly based is his language. It's a treat for the ears:




'Twas briilig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were teh borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The fruminous Bandersnatch!"



Monster Poems
Written by John Foster

Illustrated by Korky Paul
Oxford University Press, 2004
32 pages

This is a collection of playful and fun monster poems; some poems are written by Foster, while some from other authors, like Jack Prelutsky, Michaela Morgan, Brian Moses, and Judith Nicholls.

The opening poem, "Question Time," is quite the opener. Witty and wild, Michaela Morgan answers questions about monsters:

Q: What does a monster look like?

A: Well...hairy
and scary,
and furry
and burly and pimply and dimply and warty and naughty and wrinkled and
That's what a monster looks like.

My favorite monster in the book is depicted so imaginatively by Korky Paul in Paul Cookson's poem "It." The image is unforgettable: a purple headed monster with the mouth of an alligator, filled with thousands of white, jagged teeth. Socks and dresses hang from his teeth like from a clothesline. His nose is long, accordion like, with tuba-like end, covered in boils and spots. His body is curly and fuzzy, very hairy, and a pair of underwear hang off his nose.



Trupp: A Fuzzhead Tale
Written and Illustrated by Janell Cannon

HMH Books for Young Readers, 1998
48 pages

Janell Cannon hits a home run again with Trupp, a tale of a tall, cat-like creature called a "Fuzzhead." The story starts to move after we learn that Trupp is tired of hiding out in a cave with his family, and wants to see what the world--filled with humans and other interesting creaturs--is like. After Trupp has this realization, makes this decision, that's when his journey begins. Even though this character is fictional, it's hard not to believe that, in some alternate reality, this animal could be real. One of the reasons that he seems so alive is because of Cannon's love for this creature. This love is shown through the thoughtful prose, but also through the careful and beautiful illustrations. There are pictures and phrases that so lovingly rendered that they give me little heartaches, bring awws to my mouth:

    "'Funny, isn't it? I wear all this bright stuff to keep me from feeling invisible. When people stare at me, it helps me know I'm here. But Trupp puts on clothes so he will disappear.'
    Trupp sighed, 'I'm glad you saw me. But I'm getting tired of wearing all these clothes. I want to go home.'
    'I know what you mean,' Bernice said."





Written by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Peter Sis
Greenwillow Books, 2006
48 pages

In Scranimals, we encounter hybrids animals, mixtures of fruit and animal, plant and animal. The poems from Prelutsky are imaginative and outrageous, playful and adorable. We meet rhinoceroses, spinachickens, cambelberta peaches, and potatoads, among others. The bizarre combinations often made me wonder: what if these animals could cross breed with these fruits, these plants, these other animals? What if there were such a thing as a sharp and pointy porcupineapple? What if radisharks swam in the sea? What if broccolions roared throughout the forests and hills?

Some favorite poem excerpts from the collection:

Is fussing in the yard,
They peck their meager pickings,
Their lives are dull and hard.
Except for paltry feathers,
They're mostly leafy green,
Their heads are smooth as leather,
Their brains are not too keen.


Unflappable chap,
You happily amble
All over the map.
Sharp prickles protect
Your subtropical hide,
Not many could chew you,
Not many have tried.


Pish, Posh, said Hieronymus Bosch
Written by Nancy Willard
Illustrated by The Dillons
HMH Books for Young Readers, 1991
32 pages

This book imagines what it would be like for a housekeeper to take care of Hieronymus Bosch's house. Bosch, who "loved odd creatures," continued to create these creatures through his artwork. "Not a day passed that the good woman who looked after his house didn't find a new creature lurking in a corner or sleeping in a cupboard." The housekeeper, as imagined, gets fed up with the wild house and retorts:

"I'm quitting your service, I've had quite enough
Of your three-legged thistles aslleep in my wash,
Of scrubbing the millstone you use for a dish,
And riding to shops on a pickle-winged fish."

The story takes a nice turn when--after the housekeeper leaves Bosch's home, fed-up with the craziness--the oddball animals come along in her suitcase. After discovering that they can't live without her, she concludes:

"They're not what I wished for. When women are young
They want curly-haired daughters and raven-haired sons.
In this vale of tears we must take what we're sent,
Feathery, leathery, lovely, or bent."


Allie Leach is the Poetry Center's Education Programs Assistant and co-editor of the Wordplay blog.

Created on: 
Monday, October 28, 2013
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