I have a soft spot for monster stories, and find myself gravitating toward monster-themed storytimes as often as I can. Some monster books are the perfect way to be silly and to turn the scary monster into something nonthreatening and even kind. From the charming Larf to sweet The Monsters’ Monster, my favourite monster protagonists are generally big teddy bears, and Mo Willems’s Leonardo the Terrible Monster is no exception.
Leonardo is a pretty terrible monster, in that he is not scary at all. He looks around him at what a monster is expected to be (gigantic, weird, or many-toothed) and is disappointed that he doesn’t measure up. He comes up with an “evil” plan to find the most anxious child he can and “scare the tuna salad out of him!”, and so he chooses Sam. Unfortunately, Sam is having a particularly terrible day and while Leonardo is sure that he has scared him into crying, it turns out that Sam is upset about something else. In a sweet turn, Leonardo decides to be a good person instead of a terrible monster, and comforts his new friend.
I first fell for Leonardo while reading to a first grade class that thought Sam’s bad day was quite hilarious (poor Sam). Willems has a sense of humour all right, and it definitely resonates with young elementary school students. Most people can relate to the themes here: Leonardo’s feeling of isolation as he looks around and doesn’t fit the mold, Sam’s unfortunate day, and the importance of being a friend to someone. Somehow although there is a nice message at the end, there isn’t a hint of saccharine sweetness to this one. Leonardo is still a little bit mischievous, and Sam still surely still feels angry or sad from time to time.
Some Monsters are Different, however: monster stories are told in many different ways for many different audiences. Leonardo is seven years old now, and he has been joined by some other great monster-related books in our collection, like Peter Brown’s My Teacher is a Monster (no, I am not), and Jonathan Emmett’s Here Be Monsters.