Two monstrously good books

h1 September 30th, 2006 by jules

O yes, it’s here! It’s here! There was a knock on my door this morning, I saw through the window a mail man walk away back to his mail-mobile, and there on my doorstep was the new Sendak title, Mommy?! Joy o joy, and my heart did a little jig or two.

And I’m here to tell ya it is well worth the wait. I think I’ve made it clear (more than once, actually) that Sendak is the object of my literary hero worship, so you may not be surprised that I. am. in. love. with. this. book . . . Happily, I must add, my two-and-a-half-year old loved it, too. This one got the “again! again!” verbal seal of approval after I initially closed its pages.

In this title as in his others, Sendak is up to his usual genius in that he acknowledges and honors the fears of childhood. He has said repeatedly in interviews and writings that childhood is far from the sentimental journey we tend to portray it as in this country; indeed, it is rife with worries and fears and pitfalls, and the interior lives of children, he says, are exponentially more complex than we tend to admit. While at the same time acknowledging these fears and the powerlessness children often feel, his intrepid child protagonists also manage to look these fears straight in the eye (without blinking once, as Max would have them do it) and overcome them — mostly via the power of imagination — which is incredibly empowering for children to read. Max outwits the wild things; Ida outwits the goblins; Aninku and Pepicek defeat Brundibar (at least temporarily) — you get the picture.

In Mommy? (with art done by Sendak, scenario by Arthur Yorinks, and paper engineering by Matthew Reinhart), a brave young boy manages to wander into a pop-up haywire house of horrors, complete with your favorite monsters made famous in the films of the ’30s. He’s looking for his mommy, but he has to circumvent these ghouls in the process. And the pranks he pulls on them . . . well, my daughter and I both were laughing. Sendak and company seem to have had a lot of fun creating this one (Sendak probably gets all the attention on this one — “Sendak’s first pop-up book,” Scholastic likes to brag — but lots of credit goes to Yorinks here for the concept, the “writing” here. And Reinhart . . . how do he and Sabuda make these amazing pop-up wonders? My right brain just about can’t understand, and I’m in awe).

Our hero protagonist unwraps a mummy in one amazing paper engineering feat (Sendak has said in an interview that he’s delighted that this title, released in England, is Mummy?); he pulls down the pants of a menacing werewolf to reveal his garish boxers; he unhinges Frankenstein’s neck; he boldly silences Dracula with his pacifier; and much more. This gutsy kid is unmoved by the fears around him and is on a devoted, concentrated search for mommy, whom, yes, he finds in the end — that itself being a rascally, wonderful, funny surprise. Publishers Weekly calls this a “dark twist on Are You My Mother?” . . . I love it.

This is not just a book; it is an experience, a wonder in paper engineering with Sendak’s signature style, his monsters on a muted palette and a bit of softening around the edges. It’s the mommy of all pop-ups (you knew that was coming) . . . But, before you leave me, devoted blog reader, read on for one more new literary treat that is just perfect for the nearing All Hallow’s Eve . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Oh, this one is wonderful on so many levels. There is much to pore over here in Adam Rex’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (And Other Stories You’re Sure to Like, Because They’re All About Monsters, And Some of Them Are Also About Food. You Like Food, Don’t You? Well, All Right Then), also published recently. If that sub-title doesn’t clue you in to the humor inside the book and make you laugh, then go drink some coffee or eat some chocolate (Eisha just won some; maybe she’ll share) to wake yourself up.

I’m, honestly, not sure where to begin. There’s so much to see in this wonderful picture book (which I’m also categorizing under “Intermediate,” since there’s a bit of ew!-y scatalogical humor towards the end, really aimed at those middle schoolers), and I’m rather dazzled by Rex’s oil paintings. He also uses an interesting variety of other media; on the copywright page, he tells us, “{t}he illustrations in this book were created with oils and . . . oh gosh, lots of stuff. What? Sure, he used some of that. Yep, that, too.” (Oh, and we’re treated on this page to an 1897 rendition of the invisible man making a snow angel if that gives you any idea how much detailed, fun-to-spot humor there is in this book). To summarize, which I loathe doing with this one (I just want you to see it and experience it, as I don’t want to have to simplify and minimize its greatness), it’s a book of poetry featuring some of the same monsters in the pop-up wonder described above. And I mean to tell you that it had me laughing out loud.

The poems are interspersed with the plight of the poor Phantom of the Opera, for one, who can’t get certain nursery rhymes and children’s songs out of his head whilst trying to compose an aria and who grows increasingly deranged ’cause of it. And then there’s “Count Dracula Doesn’t Know He’s Been Walking Around All Night With Spinach in His Teeth”; the illustration on this one alone speaks volumes and is screamingly funny (bad pun intended). And what happens when Dr. Jekyll, who is put out at the notion of having to attend another one of those “dressy balls/in crowded halls and homes” and who intends to transform himself into Mr. Hyde, goofs up and becomes humdrum Mr. Henderson instead?

“What’s done . . . is done,”
sighed Henderson,
and went to join the rest.
Around the floor he stopped
to bore the pants off every guest.

He told a stale and endless tale
that tested their endurance,
topped that with pictures of his cat,
then sold them all insurance.

And Rex’s pen-and-ink drawing of Mr. N. Henderson? Well, it’s another must-see. Unfortunately, it’s not here, but you can see a few other of Rex’s illustrations here, and it’s well worth your time. Just look at that Speckled Crone! And as for Frankenstein — who merely wants a sandwich but has no bread — he’s really just a lovable ‘ol schlep. Poor thing scares everyone away when out looking for some condiments and such. Come on now. On the count of three, give me a big “aw!”, everyone. One, two . . . ah, forget it. But, truly, just look at that face again.

This is one sharp book. On every level — the text, the illustrations, all the subtleties therein — it’s inventive and hysterical, and you don’t want to miss it. Or else a monster might get you. Mwhahahahahahaha . . . and hahahahaha . . . and hahahaha . . . and haha . . . and mwha . . . {evil laughter fades as I sign off} . . .

2 comments to “Two monstrously good books”

  1. Kelly (at “Big A little a”) notes that there is yet another monstrous book out by none other than Ahmet Zappa. Who knew. Read here:

    — jules

  2. […] Girls and Edgar Allan Poe. The Book, We Mean — Not the Cake), the sequel to 2006’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (And Other Stories You’re Sure to Like, Because They’re Al… — both books published by Harcourt. (And how much do you love those titles, Jules? you ask. A […]

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