Thursday, September 30, 2010
When I was a first-grader, there was a TV anthology show my parents watched on Sunday nights called Chiller that specialized in Grade-Z monster movies. I was not allowed to join in the fun. I did, however, sometimes sneak down the hall, barefooted, and listen to the roars, screams, sound effects and near-Shakespearean dialogue. Once I listened to a movie called Attack of the 50-ft. Woman. I wondered: How scary, really, is a woman with fifty feet? What could she possibly do? Kick you? Steal your shoes?
I obviously didn’t grasp the reality of the title, but I did make some creative connections of my own. It reminded me that while children may be terrific observers, they are often terrible interpreters. And they need help when it comes to parsing out words with two or more meanings. Or when confronted by those phrases that adults use so easily, yet stumble against a child’s limited vocabulary and experience. Like the idiom “In one ear and out the other.” I used to think grown-ups were discussing flying insects. How about “having cold feet”? Sounds like a Chiller movie about the abominable snowman to me.
I had a lot of fun writing the new picture book series called Monster Street, because it involved making up stories to explain those idioms. And because I could remember how it felt to be confused about words and their tricks and twists. I think my favorite in the series is Two Heads Are Better Than One. I love how the illustrator, Migy, has portrayed the spunky, but sometimes sad, little monster George as he faces life with only one head in a family whose members all sport two. Poor George. Faces life? There’s another idiom. We’re surrounded by them! It’s raining cats and dogs with them! I think of Monster Street as a safe, cozy haven for those young listeners (and readers) like me who were afraid of “another mouth to feed” or the chilling possibility of real butterflies taking up residence in your stomach.