Looking for a picture book with a brave character, one who rescues himself? Monkey with a Tool Belt is that book. I think it’s important for kids to have characters who inspire them, and let them know it’s possible to escape horrible situations. Monkey With a Tool Belt does that.
Monkey with a Tool Belt
by Chris Monroe
Carolrhoda Books/Lerner (March 2008)
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Chico is a monkey with a tool belt.
He is quite handy with tools. He builds and fixes all sorts of things.
All his tools fit on his belt.
Every day, Chico builds or fixes something for his friends and family.
He is very creative.
—Monkey With a Tool Belt by Chris Monroe, p. 3-7.
Chico Bon Bon is a monkey who loves to design and build things for other animals–a dock for ducks, a go-kart for skunks, and much more. He wears his tool belt wherever he goes, and he loves his tools. Then one day Chico gets kidnapped by an organ grinder who wants to use him in his act. Chico is transported in a box to the man’s trailer. Once inside, Chico peers out through a hole, assesses the situation, waits for his chance, and then uses his tools to escape back to his home, where he dreams about what he’ll build the next day.
Monroe has created an entertaining book about a self-reliant, fast-thinking monkey who rescues himself from his own kidnapper–which is as far away from Curious George as you can get. Monkey with a Tool Belt promotes good values, while being fun.
Munroe’s text at times feels choppy, especially in the first few pages; it moves from short, bald statements to longer, more involved sentences with some words that may be new to young readers. This discrepancy felt somewhat off-kilter to me. Some sentences also seemed to be written just for the illustrations, such as to show the tools on his belt, and didn’t feel, story-wise, finely crafted–though they still worked within the story and should hold reader interest.
The text is mostly written in prose, though there are a few pages written in rhyme when the things Chico builds for his friends are listed. I found the sudden insert of rhyme a little off putting, but then I’m not a fan of rhyming text. Still, the playful rhyming list of what Chico creates with his tools serves not only to show how creative he is and how skilled with his tools, but also provides some lightness before the tense moments of Chico’s capture and escape. Text also appears in the illustrations, labeling each tool, which should please curious readers and readers who enjoy tools.
Chico is a character readers can care about; he is friendly, helpful, and generous with his time and skills, and he is also brave and self-reliant. Tension is built up well during Chico’s capture, and readers are given some hope that Chico will manage to escape, since they know he is so skilled with his tools and so creative in what he builds. The reader is rewarded when Chico manages to escape all on his own, and find his way safely back to his home.
Chico’s escape goes into great detail about how he’s using each tool–but they don’t all seem necessary or to truly add to his escape. It felt at times like the author was just trying to get as many tools involved in the escape as possible. for instance, measuring the distance to the door with a measuring tape seemed over the top. It would have worked better for me if each tool could be overtly connected to Chico’s escape. Still, the step-by-step process of Chico’s escape is interesting, and young readers will probably enjoying reading the spread closely.
Some potentially frightening details, such as that the organ grinder had a previous monkey, are somewhat offset by details in the illustrations and text, such as that the previous monkey escaped with the help of other animals. THe illustrations show each leg of that monkey’s escape, and him vacationing happily now, which may give readers hope that Chico will also escape. Other details are offset by humor (such as that it was lucky the banana split was fake or Chico would have been covered in ice cream during the ride over).
Monroe’s illustrations have a childlike quality, with a plethora of details. They are illustrated in an almost comic-book style, though they are flat, have a skewed perspective, are without much depth, and have little to no layering of colors or shading. The illustrative style isn’t one of my favorites, but it works. Colors are bright, and often a lot of white space is used, which keeps the illustrations light. Exaggerated body language is used in key scenes, such as Chico’s travel after being captured, and the organ grinder being hit on the toe, and this may provide some comic relief for readers. At times the illustrations remind me of Richard Scary’s, especially the map that shows where the organ grinder took Chico, but also in the amount of details, the labeling of objects, and some of the flatness.
There is so much to look at in the illustrations–there are multiple tools and colors, many designs in each illustration or spread, all of which can keep a reader entranced or busy taking in the other detail, though other readers may find this a bit chaotic.
Some pages have multiple illustrations enclosed in boxes, similar to a comic strip, while others have multiple images on one page, or an image taking up the entire spread. The illustrations also have added text within the illustrations which add to the comic-like feel–dialogue in dialogue bubbles, sound effects, and labels that identify specific tools. The organ grinder has a menacing look on his face in the illustrations, which may be frightening for some young children. However, the obvious ill intent of the organ grinder may help provide relief when his toe is hurt.
Chico is a brave, self-reliant monkey who saves himself; he is a character readers can cheer for. He’s also a character who uses creativity as well as other skills to help himself. This is a book that will engage young readers’ imaginations and provide inspiration. Recommended.