This one is for the lovers, the dreamers, and mostly…me.
Because if I’m being honest with myself (NOT always easy to do), as much as I loved all the books in my childhood (and I mean loved!)…I’m not sure there was one that gave me such goosebumps…such a thrill when I first read it! (I think I actually remember the first time I read it…even though I would have been a toddler!) as “The Monster at the End of This Book,” by Jon Stone and illustrator Michael Smollin.
It’s not sexy (in a trying to become a profound, literary children’s author way) to admit this because I SHOULD say something written by a Pillar of the Literary Establishment and not (almost exclusively) commercial. Still, if there’s anything I’m learning about writing for children, honesty is THE most crucial part of it. I mean, no one considered this book for a Newbery or a Caldecott, did they? (And why is that, anyhow? But I digress.)
So what did Little Elayne love about this book?
Readers, it’s taken me a while to think about this. The obvious answers: it’s fun, it’s meta, it’s Grover…were only part of it. I know that because I read lots of other fun and meta and even Grover-y books, but they didn’t really stick.
And here’s what I think made this book my forbidden love:
It made me be bad.
As much as any writer likes to think of themselves as a bad*ss who writes/speaks “the truth” to “power,”…I was not one of those kids. Sidenote: I don’t think that’s uncommon for kids, especially little girls. My #1 mode of operation as a kid was: MAKE ADULTS LIKE ME…and if that made other kids find me annoying (and they did), so be it (and it was).
But in order to do the “good thing” of finishing this book…I had to do bad things, things that Grover (that lovable muppet) literally BEGGED me not to do. I had to destroy his creations. I had to ignore his pleas. I (maybe) had to offer him up as a possible sacrifice to the “monster” the book promised.
It was deliciously dark, at least for a rules-follower. BUT, because the #1 rule of bookworm readers is, “Turn the page when it’s time…,” I could do that…and not feel bad! It was thrilling and liberating…forbidden fruit, in the form of a Sesame Street, and therefore parent-approved, story.
Hot take: I don’t automatically love stories where an animal eats another animal at the end as a “surprise.” I’m sorry. I know these are editor favorites, so that’s why I almost don’t want to admit it. I don’t think I’m too sappy or anything. I don’t think, “Oh, that’s mean!” per se. BUT…I think of it as a bit ho-hum. (Probably too many animal documentaries.)
Instead, in “The Monster at the End of This Book,” the final surprise is: you can be bad…and sometimes…it works out.
LOL! Talk about dark truth!
And that’s why to this day…it’s still maybe the most influential book I’ve read
…if I’m being honest. 🙂