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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Go to Bed, Monster!
Go to Bed, Monster!
by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz
One night, Lucy tossed and turned.
She could not, would not, did not want to go to bed.
"I want to draw," she said.
Lucy dumped out her crayons.
She drew an oval body. A square head. Rectangle legs. And circle eyes.
When she added triangles, the shapes turned into a . . .
Roar! said Monster.
"You don't scare me," said Lucy. "Let's play!"
Lucy and Monster built castles.
They flew airplanes. They marched in a parade.
--Go to Bed, Monster! by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz, p. 2-8.
Lucy doesn't want to go to sleep--she wants to draw. Her drawing turns into a monster, and the monster comes alive. Monster wants to play and play, so much so that Lucy is soon tired out--but Monster is not. Lucy tries various ways to get Monster to go to sleep, but Monster won't sleep, and keeps wanting things which Lucy draws for him--until finally Lucy comes up with a solution that helps put them both to sleep--a bedtime story.
Wing (The Night Before Kindergraten, The Night Before First Grade) cleverly turns the usual bedtime scene around, so that it is Lucy, the child, who has to cajole and soothe her Monster to bed (not the child's parents cajoling or soothing her to bed). This reversal is funny. Go To Bed, Monster! is also about the power of imagination, and the ways imagination can entertain, soothe, and find solutions to problems. It's Lucy's imagination and creativity that brings Monster alive, and allows them to use everything she creates. The fantasy aspect of drawings coming alive or being able to be used is highly enjoyable--similar to Harold and the Purple Crayon--and will spark reader imagination and encourage creativity and art. This is a lovely, sweet bedtime story that has humor and a gentle playfulness.
Wing's opening text is immediately gripping and interesting, with the problem stated emphatically in the second sentence "...could not, would not, did not want to go to bed." Many readers will identify with that problem. Wing's opening and closing text act as book ends; in the opening, Lucy doesn't want to go to sleep, but instead wants to draw, in the closing, Lucy falls asleep with her drawing that came alive--and in between, the action occurs. This works well, and brings a satisfying feeling of having come back to the initial problem with a solution.
Wing has a good sense of timing; it works well to break up the sentence of what Lucy's drawn shapes have become, so that the reader doesn't see or hear the answer until they turn the page--a monster. This adds surprise, enjoyment, and brings a greater impact to the answer. That Lucy is not scared of the monster, even though all he does is roar when he first comes to life, is refreshing, helps the reader like Lucy more, and helps the reader see that Lucy is brave.
Wing never tells too much; she leaves some things up to the illustrator and the reader to figure out, which helps make the text work even better (for instance, when Monster has to go to the potty, Wing doesn't tell us that Monster went; she just says that "Lucy drew a bathroom," and adds a sound effect, and then goes on, in the next page, to Monster's next demand. That, along with Kantorovitz's drawings, work to tell us the whole story without telling details twice.
The things that Lucy and Monster do together are lighthearted, playful, and full of a child's sense of fun--building castles, flying airplanes, marching in a parade, and skipping, jumping, and crawling. Monster is depicted like another child, and is not scary; Monster's one- to two-word dialogue makes him appear to be much younger than Lucy. Wing humanizes Monster and helps bring reader empathy for him when Monster is cold, scared, and afraid of the dark, and helps bring lightness and humor when Monster has to go to the potty, wants to play all the time when Lucy is tired, and gets excited about being read a book. Wing does not specify a gender for Monster, which can increase reader identification. I've used the male gender in this review simply for clarity.
Wing has Lucy draw tender and kind solutions for Monster, drawing Monster pajamas, a huggy bear, and a moon, which brings good feeling. Lucy and Monster's activities are grouped in threes (with one activity added on), which helps bring a sense of rhythm and balance, and leads to the midpoint of the book--where Lucy is worn out and wants to sleep, but Monster is not tired at all.
Next comes Lucy's various attempts to cajole and boss the Monster into going to sleep--none of which make Monster tired, and so are fun to read. Some of Lucy's suggestions will be familiar to readers, which also adds to the humor. Then come Monster's needs and desires which help him avoid bed; these needs also come in threes, bringing more of that pleasing rhythm and symmetry: wanting food, drink, and to go to the potty, and then being cold, scared, and scared of the dark. After each set, Lucy yet again attempts to get Monster to sleep.
Lucy's final suggestion, the one that works, is a lovely one--reading Monster a bedtime story. This brings an added layer into the story, reminding readers that they themselves are reading a story. It also quietly reinforces a love and appreciation of reading, by showing that of all the suggestions, it's the book that works to settle the rambunctious monster down and allow Lucy and Monster some sleep.
The ending is satisfying, with Lucy and Monster both falling asleep, Lucy's problem solved, and a friend gained.
Kantorovitz's (I Love You Mister Bear, Little Witch Takes Charge) oil-paint-and-oil-pastel drawings are a delight. They have a child-like quality to them, and are made to look as if they are drawn by a child with crayons, but they're drawn with enough skill that they have great visual appeal. They are loosely drawn with a sense of fun and playfulness, and pick up and build on Wing's mood perfectly.
Kantorovitz's colors are gentle pastels, and except for the opening and closing illustrations, are drawn with large amounts of white space, which helps bring a feeling of lightness. Light blue, green, yellow, and pink are repeated throughout the book, bringing a continuity. Kantorovitz's characters and objects are outlined in thick dark lines. She adds whimsical, sweet touches to the illustrations, like Lucy's bed cover which has bright yellow stars on a deep blue sky, the crescent moon she draws in the window, and the pink footsie pajamas Lucy draws for Monster.
Lucy, her stuffed rabbit, and her bedroom are visually differentiated from Monster and all the things Lucy draws that they use; they are filled in with smoother gradated color, whereas the things Lucy draws look liked they're filled in with crayons and white space, and are more like stick drawings. The oil pastels Kantorovitz uses look a lot like crayon, even in their texture, which adds to their appeal.
Monster is never scary; instead, he's endearing, with large, expressive eyes; a young child manner; back ridges and a tail that look like a dragon's; and a body that looks a lot like a robot. He's quite appealing, and his expressions are full of emotion. He is also clearly a child-drawn figure, not quite real, which may reassure sensitive readers. Monster's one- to two-word dialogue is drawn in capital letters and colored with oil pastels, which visually separates Monster's dialogue from Lucy's.
Lucy's drawings really come alive under Kantorovitz's hands; the airplanes Lucy, her stuffed rabbit, and Monster fly in are paper airplanes; confetti flies around them all as they march together in a parade; and Monster is so endearing.
There is humor in the illustrations, too, especially when Monster goes to the potty, and the door is left partially open so we see Monster sitting on the potty, looking relieved. Humor also occurs through Monster's excited and child-like mannerisms.
Observant readers will enjoy seeing Lucy's stuffed rabbit accompany her in every scene, taking part in the fun; the stuffed rabbit eats the same food Monster eats, gets pajamas when Monster does, uses her own little potty when Monster does, and uses an umbrella to shield herself from the water that falls out of Monster's bucket when Monster quenches his thirst.
I really like how Kantorovitz prominently displayed both books and Lucy's child drawings in the opening illustration, and that crayons are shown throughout, showing an appreciation of books and art, and encouraging the reader to explore their own creativity.
Kantorovitz's movement towards the closing works well, building on curiosity and momentum, with Lucy asleep and Monster suddenly sitting up in his own bed, wide awake, looking sadly over at Lucy--and then, in the closing illustration (without any text), the reader sees Monster cuddled up next to Lucy in bed, both of them asleep. I love the closing illustration; it's sweet, brought a smile to my face, and made a deeply satisfying ending, giving the story a warm feeling and that extra beat to tie it all together.
Go To Bed, Monster! is a perfect blend of imaginaiton, playfulness, humor, and comfort that will entertain and soothe readers about bedtime. Highly recommended.
-Added October 1, 2007
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