22 July 2006

It is your old pal Grover

Fuse #8 alerted me to librarian Adrienne Furness's essay on The Monster at the End of this Book, featuring Grover as the furry narrator. (And he is cute, too!)

For the record, the author is the late Jon Stone, the artist Michael Smollin, but as a TV spin-off the book is clearly the culmination of many people's creative efforts. (But Stone had special monster insight; he'd married Beverly Owen of The Munsters.)

I loved The Monster at the End of this Book when I was in early elementary school. So have millions of other American kids. As I recall, Publishers Weekly once reported that it was the biggest seller Golden Books ever issued, and thus one of the biggest sellers of any American children's book. In 2000, the title's thirtieth year on the market, the magazine tallied 91,730 copies sold; in 2003, 83,701. That, my friends, is backlist publishing.

Furness [an appropriate name for writing about Grover, but she must hear that all the time] calls The Monster at the End of this Book an "early postmodern picture book gem." I didn't have those terms in 1971, but I definitely enjoyed the fact that Monster was a book about being a book. Its plotline was based on how a book works: turning one page after another, journeying unstoppably from one cover to the other. Monster probably helped prepare me for a publishing career. The only picture book that's come close since is The Stinky Cheese Man.

I also identified with Grover's fear and confusion about monsters. When I was little, before second grade (when my family bought our first TV), I knew the monsters on Sesame Street only from glimpses at friends' and relatives' houses. And they frightened me. Why? Because they were monsters. I knew that "monsters" was a term for scary creatures. So I was scared. No matter that Grover, Cookie, and Herry (the big blue three back then) never did anything scary that I could see. Adults called them "monsters." Obviously, they were going to be scary real, real soon!

For the same reason, I also hid from Margaret Hamilton in the MGM Wizard of Oz the first time I saw it, not because she did such a good job acting horrible (which she did), but because that's what I thought you should do with witches. It was expected.

The last time I saw my preschool-age godson in London, he was even more worried by Sesame Street puppets than I'd been. Not the monsters, who now jump around saying, "Wubba wubba wubba," and eschewing pronouns. (Grover doesn't use contractions, and Cookie uses "me" in place of "I," but Elmo talks about Elmo in Elmo's own peculiarly irksome way.) No, my godson made a point of leaving the room whenever the Big Bad Wolf came on screen. He calmly and quietly went to his bedroom--up two tall flights of stairs in about five seconds.

So what did I, being a good godfather, do? I wrote him a whole story about the Big Bad Wolf. Maybe in thirty-five more years he'll enjoy reading it.

1 comment:

Disco Mermaids said...

I probably read The Monster at the End of this Book more than any other book as a child. The genius is that on the first reading, the book is kinda scary. But after that, the child is in on the joke and gets to laugh at Grover's impending embarrassment.

I love giving this book to parents of young children. They say it's one of the few books they don't mind reading over and over because it's so interactive.

- Jay