The Monster at the End of this Book (by Jon Stone and Michael Smollin, 1971)

picturebookpicksThere are a number of books where the characters realize they’re in a book (I just saw a new one in Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie series). But as far as I’m concerned, The Monster at the End of this Book is the crème de la crème. Why? It’s all in the title. Grover (everyone’s favorite from Sesame Street before Elmo stole his thunder) sees the title of the book and freaks out. “What did that say? On the first page, what did that say? Did that say there will be a Monster at the end of this book??? IT DID? Oh, I am so scared of Monsters!!!”

Grover begs you to stop turning pages, and tries to physically stop you by tying the pages together and such, so that you never reach the end of the book and the monster who’s waiting there, and every time you turn a page he freaks out again. It’s amazing. The typography and illustrations are expressive to the point that you can’t help reading it in your craziest voice, and feeling all of Grover’s ups and downs.

I won’t spoil the (vaguely) surprise ending, but suffice to say it’s all okay in the end.

Books where characters convincingly talk to the reader are wonderful, and books where the characters get upset at the reader can be especially fun. (Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is a great example.) But this book manages to put a twist on it by making it physical. Grover builds a brick wall to stop you turning the page, but you turn the page and knock down the brick wall, and Grover compliments you on how strong you are. Amazing.

It’s also a great book because it speaks to feelings that children are familiar with. Kids know what it’s like to be afraid but have the people around them telling them not to be scared and being unsympathetic. This is a chance for children to be gleefully on the other side of that equation and to see that Grover is, indeed, being very silly. One of the best ways for children to deal with feelings like fear and anger is to find real humor in them, which this book really does.

Also, a roomful of children joyfully demanding “TURN THE PAGE!” counts as a pre-literacy win in my book, thank you very much.

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