While musical elder-statesmen-turned-grandfather creating entertainment for their grandkids is not new, it is always a pleasure when the result is as fine and artistically imaginative as veteran folk singer, Arlo Guthrie’s new children’s book, Monsters. The book, meant for children and their parents, plays to Arlo's strength as a storytelling humor driven folk music hero. On this outing, the ironic humor in previous children's books is stripped away in favor of a straight-forward story on facing your own fears and finding courage.
Grampa Arlo made it clear many years ago in his poem and earlier children's book, Mooses Come Walking, that he was not as interested in putting children to bed with self-esteem building feel-good bedtime stories, as he was in scaring them to sleep with visions of a crazy moose peering through their bedroom window. Monsters is a natural follow-up gently explaining that all of those imaginaries goblins(even 'mooses'), that seem to appear after the bedroom lights are out, are only products of childhood fears. In the context of this story, his legendary father, Woody Guthrie, comes in to save the day and does all the explaining necessary to allow kid-Arlo to have a content and safe night’s sleep, minus monsters and moose invaders-even making friends with these shadows of the childhood mind.
The illustrations are reason enough to share this book around among friends, family, and neighbors. Created with loving care by, Kathy Garren, the art is illuminating and life-like, portraying young Arlo with just the right touch of naïveté’ and more than a little goofiness and mischievousness. As the main character, Arlo is also the comic relief in this tale. His facial expressions of childhood fear of those imaginary monsters in his head hit the funny bone and carry the ring of truth.
The story itself, if read a bit deeper, also addresses those fears we all face, which become much larger in our imaginations as we hide from them in the darkness of our minds and souls. But, when faced, with wisdom, those same monster like fears, become right-sized and ready to confront and be transformed from darkness to light.
It is the visual portrait of Woody that produces the goosebumps needed to bring the story home. He appears, first, as an adult hero, as a wise philosopher and as a beautiful soul, which when tempered with reality of the tragedy that unfolded in his later years, makes this story all the more touching.
So, if you’re a parent or a grandparent, an uncle or a friend, a few minutes spent at bedtime reading to a kid and sharing the pictures won’t be wasted. The story is enough to calm those after-hour jitters for children; the art is more than enough to please any adult with its quality and warmth.
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