Friday, January 31, 2014

Reading: Love Monster

If the Love Monster, a slightly-hairy and googley-eyed thing living in a land of cute and fluffy bunnies, had a theme song, it might sound like this: 

Each morning, I get up.  
I die a little. 
Can barely stand on my feet.
Take a look in the mirror and cry.  

(If you would like to hear more of Love Monster's theme song, you can do so here.)

Poor Love Monster!  He finds it hard to live in a land of cuteness and cuddles when nobody there seems to think he's cute!  He really wants somebody to love, so he decides to go on a quest to find that someone - and not just any someone, mind you, but somebody that will love him just the way he is!  He looks high.  He looks middle-ish.  He looks low.  But he just can't find anyone to love!  

I may have squealed a few times while reading Love Monster because I frankly feel that the fluffy red guy is actually rather heartwarming!  He carries a stuffed monster friend and even sports a purple heart pinned to his chest!  His innocent eyes are warm and kind, albeit misunderstood, and his underbite reminds me of my dog, Ralphie.  I found it interesting to learn that author and illustrator Rachel Bright actually created the monster through "solar etching, which uses ultraviolet light to create printing plates."  (You can learn more about this technique by watching the video here.) So while he might seem a little frightening to some, he's actually just a fluffy ball of sunshine in reality!  I was unaware of this technique's existence, and the illustrations throughout the book are certainly unique and are appropriate for the book's content. For example, the outlines of each picture are rather bold, something that readers might expect to find in a monster world.  However, the setting is also filled with colorful butterflies, flowers, and kites, a surprise to those expecting to find darker things in a monster's habitat. Additionally, small illustrations are hidden on each page, and there is nothing I love more in picture books than going on a good scavenger hunt! (Try to find the cuddling ladybugs!  What about the suitcase filled with self-help love books?  The heart-shaped stars in the night sky?)  The love monster himself is small, usually standing in the right or left corner of the page, leaving the setting to consume most of the page space.  Perhaps the small size of the monster is intended to show how he feels compared to the rest of the creatures that surround him in Cutesville. Maybe it's to illustrate that he is NOT a monstrous beast at all but a small, sweet guy with bright red hair. The contrast between bright hues of purple, pink, and yellow with dark red, deep gray, and black make the illustrations appeal to both boys and girls.  These color discrepancies reveal the hope that the Love Monster has in his heart as he begins his search to find love, while also corresponding with the despair he feels when he just cannot seem to uncover it.  My favorite illustrative feature in Love Monster, however, is the unusual font that the author uses to tell the story.  The mixture of capital letters and lowercase letters, some with hearts in the middle, looks as if it was written by a monster!  I have never seen this font in any other book, and children will enjoy observing what I assume to be the monster's handwriting as they read.

Finally, I adore Love Monster because of the story that it tells!  While the theme of loving others no matter how different they may be is not new, it never gets tiresome! Readers can't help but feel empathy for the Love Monster as he searches for love, gets ambushed by a rainstorm, and becomes stranded in the dark, which was "scary, and, well, not very nice." I appreciate that this book teaches children to be empathetic for others.  The author even writes "Poor monster" after showing an illustration of kids impolitely pointing at him.  I imagine the conversations that parents and their children, or teachers and their students, can have as they feel for the monster.  What could you do to help the monster? I might ask.  Although he may have been down on his luck, don't just expect the monster to sulk around! "Not being the moping-around sort," Love Monster decided to be proactive and find a resolution for his own problem!  How wonderful to read about a young hero exhibiting courage in the face of adversary, another important lesson illustrated in this charming children's tale.  

As I think about bringing Love Monster into a classroom, I can't help but consider its potential in building classroom community.  The theme of loving and caring for others is potent throughout the entire year, and Love Monster showcases this perfectly. There are a myriad of ways students can construct written responses to Love Monster, perhaps by writing the forlorn monster friendly love notes.  And with an easily identifiable problem and solution, Love Monster is an ideal book for summarizing, though probably best suited for grades K-2.

Because of its central message, unique illustrations, and appeal to children, Love Monster is an excellent read.  I am happy to learn that he is part of a three-book series and that the author of Love Monster has written and illustrated several other books!  I am excited to investigate these new stories as I heartily welcome Love Monster into my library. 

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