Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Even Monsters Go to School

A few weeks ago my son took me to see Avenue Q. I fell in love with this musical when I saw the Broadway cast perform on the Tony Awards in 2004. I immediately purchased the CD and have been a fan every since. We never had the opportunity to see a live production and I was simply thrilled when he asked me if I would go with him. If you know the show, you might ask "Awkward seeing the show with your son?" and I must say, yes at times. However, we are both lovers of live theater and knew what we were getting into. The show was phenomenal.

For those who don't know Avenue Q, it is the musical story of a group of three actors and eleven puppets (animated by puppeteers who are unconcealed on the stage throughout the production - you focus on the puppet and forget the puppeteers are actually on the stage). Some of the puppets remind those of us who grew up with Sesame Street of favorite characters like Cookie Monster (Trekkie Monster) and Bert and Ernie (Rod and Nicky). Kate Monster and Trekkie Monster (no relation, don't ask!!! - this is really funny if you know the show, if you don't know the show, just trust me) are the main reason I am making a connection here. Kate's dream is to start a school for monsters. Trekkie, through some very salacious means, is able to make Kate's dream come to fruition. It represents a rather noble goal coming to fruition via *ahem* carnal means.

Avenue Q
winner of three Tony Awards, including
Best Musical, 2004
I'm sure you are wondering why I am making the connection of Avenue Q to the newest book I am reviewing! Please note, I am by NO MEANS comparing this delightful children's picture book to Avenue Q in any way other than the appearance of monsters in both! I could have totally gone with the Pixar's new movie Monsters University (for obvious reasons), but I wouldn't get the WOW factor!

by Daniel J. Mahoney
illustrated by Jef Kaminsky
Daniel J. Mahoney has the perfect book for young humans who will be walking through the doors of schools everywhere very soon. Monstergarten is the story of monster friends Kevin and Patrick who are trying to get their scare-on before their first day of Monstergarten (if you can't figure it out, human kiddos will be going to kindergarten - duh moment!). One of the rules of Monstergarten, you have to be scary (according to a first-grader, and everyone knows they are the experts in all things Monster-/ Kinder-garten!!)

I loved seeing Kevin and Patrick head to books in order to research how to be scary! What a great way to show children how to obtain information about something. Way to go Mr. Mahoney! The story line is perfect for this time of the year when parents are preparing their little humans for the first day of school. Patrick's angst is completely understandable to all who have been in his shoes (or in this case, his boots - this Texas girl loves this detail). A wonderful little twist will pull at the heartstrings of parents, especially those who will be taking their children on the first day of school, but the final two page spread brings a laugh to all, even if it derived from the scariest monster in all of Monstergarten!

The hysterical facial expressions of these monster friends are perfectly frightening for young readers. They are not so scary to cause nightmares, but not comical to the point of losing the friends' be scary. I love the details included in the Kaminsky's illustrations. The endpapers with the individual student photographs. It allow you to see all of the students (monsters) in Mr. Goop's class and just how individualist each one is, just like in a human kindergarten class. [Like Kaminsky, I was a kindergarten teacher for six years before becoming a librarian for 750+ pre-kindergarten students.] Each monster has their own personality, which is very evident in the classroom setting. The details of the classroom are right on target for children who will be trying to make connections, with the exception of the class pet. I think that one would freak me out!

I would highly recommend Monstergarten to all parents who will be walking the halls of schools everywhere, holding the hand of an anxious young child. It doesn't matter if the child will be going to kindergarten, fourth grade, high school, or even college, there is a level of anxiety everyone feels on the first day of school. Oh, and by the way, this apprehension is not limited to the children! Trust me on this one. As a parent and teacher there is always a sense of uncertainty no matter how many years you have under your belt. Maybe the laughs you get from Kevin and Patrick will help all with the excitement, wonder, and dread for the first day of school.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Daniel J. Mahoney has provided a complimentary copy of his book for review purposes.

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