Some Thoughts on “The Monster at the End of this Book”

cover of The Monster at the End of This Book picture book

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. 🙂

Five Great Questions to Ask When Getting–or Giving!–a Lyrical Picture Book Critique

I recently attended a great webinar by the wonderful children’s book author Pat Zietlow Miller, titled “Lovely, Lyrical Language: Writing the Perfect Plotless Picture Book.”

All the thinking about lyrical picture books got me thinking about how hard it can sometimes feel to get (or give!) a great critique of a ‘plotless’ picture book. How to judge something so evocative? So…inherently subjective? (Well, all critiques are subjective…but especially so in these cases.)

So, during the Q&A, I asked Pat something to the effect of, “HELP!!! What are some good critique questions for lyrical picture books?”–only, you know, my original question was far more longwinded and poorly-worded.

Of course, she delivered! Here’s what she suggested–use them for your next lyrical picture book critique to make sure you are crafting the lyrical love!

  • Did you get bored anywhere?
  • Did you find anything too repetitive?
  • Is there enough balance between the universal (the broad strokes) and the specific (the details)?
  • Are there any lines you think could be more creative?
  • Can you read this aloud to me? <–I especially love this one! Couldn’t hurt and I never think to do that!

A huge thank you to Pat for giving me permission to share her super handy questions with you. She’s the best! You should follow her on Twitter, and Instagram, and check out all her wonderful books.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some questions to ask myself as I re-read my latest lyrical picture book manuscript!

5 Ways to Support Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators — For Free!

Of course, we all want our favorite authors and illustrators to write more books! Here are some great, no-cost ways to support your favorite authors and illustrators, whether you are completely broke–or not!

1. Request their title(s) from your local public library! Libraries are super important customers to publishers, and libraries will buy multiple copies of very popular books. If your local library doesn’t carry the book, request it! That can make an even bigger difference–other book lovers might learn about your favorite author and/or illustrator just by seeing your requested book out and about at their branch after you are done reading it!

2. Review their book(s)! There are a lot of places to review books; use whatever platform you use normally and then branch out–you can often just copy and paste your same review to a few different spots. If you have read a book, but haven’t purchased it on Amazon, it’s still okay to review it there; they are perfectly fine with it (it just won’t say “Verified Review” on it…no biggie). Goodreads is another great site to leave positive reviews on, as it alerts other book lovers to the book and what they might enjoy about it. Your library might even allow for book reviews–check your local library’s website for details.

3. Talk about them on social media! If you just finished a book that you loved, post a quick pic of it with why you loved it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…wherever you live digitally. Not only will you be sharing the love, but you might find out that you have yet another awesome thing in common with your online friends! Don’t forget to tag the author, illustrator and/or publisher! (They will be thrilled!)

4. Follow the author and/or illustrator! Speaking of online stuff, most of your favorite authors or illustrators will have a social media account (or two…or seven). By following them, not only do you add to their all-important follower count, but you will hear directly from them about upcoming titles, see process sneak peeks, and sometimes even win free goodies (like signed copies–or other nifty swag).

5. Nominate the book! There are heaps of awards for books–including many that are audience-chosen (Goodreads being a popular example). But many local book festivals, parenting magazines, state-wide organizations, and more also have great opportunities for you to suggest that your favorite book gets the accolades it deserves! Keep your ears and eyes out and you just might be the one that makes something big happen for your favorite author or illustrator!

Office or Library Decor Inspiration Files: PWA Posters

I’m sure you’ve heard of the famous Public Works Administration part of the New Deal package from back in the 1930s when the U.S. government invested in a swathe of long-term infrastructure and public works projects–including public information and education projects.

WELL…some of those projects related to libraries! Poster artist and lithographer Arlington Gregg did a series of graphic posters to educate/remind patrons how to care for the books they are entrusted with–and they are available for anyone to use now.

If you’ve been wondering what to plaster on your office or library wall, wonder no more! These downloadable images from the archives of the Library of Congress can be printed and used free of charge.

Search the Library of Congress website for free, downloadable Arlington Gregg scanned images.