It’s that spooooooky time of year when you might encounter a monster on your morning commute or evening stroll, in a grocery store aisle or neighborhood yard decoration, amid your dreams and under — or next to you in! — your bed. While monsters have long served humans as metaphors for fear of what is different and/or unknown — the word “monster” comes to us in part from the Latin words for warning and demonstration — there’s been a necessary rehabilitation and welcome expansion of the concept of the monster in Children’s literature and media in particular. From Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” to Sesame Street to “Monsters, Inc.,” monsters are not just lurking in the shadows to antagonize or gobble us up. In this more generous, compassionate light, monsters can also help us to empathize with other human and nonhuman creatures and consciousnesses, reflect on and shift our perspectives, challenge assumptions and biases and process and understand our tender and turbulent emotional lives. That’s why I like to think of monsters as ✨ marvelous ✨ — real/imaginary beings who are connected to wonder, surprise, astonishment and even smiles.
This spooky season, I invite you and your loved ones to consider how and where monsters show up in your lives and imaginations. To open the conversation up or keep it going, check out some of the titles on this ✨ Marvelous Monsters ✨ booklist. Below are a couple of my favorite titles that playfully and/or powerfully complicate how we might think of and experience monsters.
This story is for night owls everywhere. Ever had a morning where time seemed to unspool out of your grasp and every chore or part of your routine was disastrously disrupted? You might find some validation or consolation in Bartholomew’s mischievously monstrous morning.
read-alike: “Monster Trouble”
“Benita and the Night Creatures” by Mariana Llanos and Cocoretto
A gaggle of monsters from Peruvian folklore try to scare young Benita as she reads at night, but the only thing more fearsome than their antics is Benita’s fierce determination to finish her book. Night creatures, beware — or better yet, gather ’round for some reading magic!
“Emi Isn’t Scared of Monsters” by Alina Tysoe
Sometimes facing or simply acknowledging our fears can help us process through and even beyond them; moreover, placing our concerns in a larger, more considerate context can bring us back to balance so that we can truly “rest and digest.” In this humorous yet thoughtful reversal, Emi is most definitely not scared of monsters and hunts about the house with her handy-dandy monster-catching “provisions” to trap them once and for all. But upon closer inspection, things may not be quite what Emi has imagined, and the monsters themselves may also definitely be scared of brave little girls.
“Let’s Play Monsters!” by Lucy Cousins
Sometimes becoming a monster can be fun, a celebration of joyful connection. Sometimes becoming a monster can help us transfer and transform our rambunctious, intense feelings, too.
“Me & My Dysphoria Monster” by Laura Kate Dale and Ang Hui Qing
In this tender, poignant title, young Nisha is struggling with a very particular kind of monster: her gender dysphoria monster, which describes the extremely distressing and disconnecting psychological experience that prevents Nisha from being present with and loving towards herself, as well as her family, her friends and her larger community. While Nisha experiences deep hurt, confusion and isolation on account of her monster, she learns from a trusted adult that her monster is also trying to protect her: it is “that little voice that knows who we are and who we want to be . . . and it doesn’t like to be ignored!” With this compassionate understanding, Nisha is able to make peace with her monster and find the courage and care to affirm her true self.
I am so excited by and grateful for the use of monsters to help kids and adults alike name, understand and reflect on their emotional and mental health and comprehensive sense of wellbeing. Just like emotions can be complex, multifaceted and fluid, so can our monsters.
read-alikes: “The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions”; “Milo’s Monster” (on jealousy); “My Monster and Me” (on anxiety and panic); “Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster” (on anxiety and worry); “The Snurtch” (on anger, grouchiness and irritability); “The Whopper” (on guilt and lying)
Thank goodness for the loveable, mischievous and mindful monsters and critters of Sesame Street, who have long validated and encouraged the minds and spirits of so many young — and old — humans! In this series of board books, we learn that meditation and other kinds of self-soothing strategies may seem hard or onerous if you’ve never tried before, but it really can be as simple and transformative as taking a moment or pause to check in and connect with your self and environment by means of your senses. Take it from me and Cookie Monster, probably two of the most impatient beings who have ever existed! 🍪
other titles in this series: “Monster Meditation: A Change of Plans for Elmo!”; “Monster Meditation: Getting Ready for Bed With Elmo”; “Monster Meditation: Time to Focus, Grover!”; “Monster Meditation: Time for School, Rosita!”
“Some Monsters Are Different” by David Milgrim
Monsters — like animals, like fungi, like humans, like minerals, like plants, like stars — are varied, various, versatile and ever-changing.