As all the children's literature people in America know, tomorrow is the announcement of the American Library Association's Youth Media Awards. It's a magical time for those of us who love children's books. I haven't attended in person for many years, but I usually watch the livestream of the announcements. You can still cheer along with the crowd as the titles are called and authors' lives are changed forever. I've read many accounts of the phone calls authors get early that Monday morning from the committees, telling them they've won, and the stories always bring tears to my eyes.
Of course, it would be very difficult for me to choose the book that I think will win these awards, so instead I wanted to honor a clever salute to a Caldecott Honor winner. The Caldecott Honor winner is Madeline, and the book I'd like to bring to your attention is Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody (written by Ludworst Bemonster). I wish I could remember where I first saw this mentioned this fall, but it made me want to get it. Luckily our public library had it, and I am a little ashamed to admit that we have had it checked out ever since. The girls love it, and keep asking to read it again. It is funny, clever and is a sweet love letter to a classic story.
The comparison is evident from the front covers. On the cover of Madeline, Miss Clavel walks towards the Eiffel Tower, trailing behind most of her twelve little charges clutching Madeline's hand. On the cover of Frankenstein, there is a creepy castle instead of the Eiffel Tower and Frankenstein peeking back at the reader. There is a clever seal on the cover as well which cites Frankenstein as a "Caldecott Horror book". And the font for the title and author is the same as well. All of it subtly sets up the reader for the experience they are about to have - familiar and yet a little creepy at the same time.
This is subtitled A Monstrous Parody, and it is indeed a perfect parody as it takes the well-known story of Madeline and turns it askew. In this story, the doctor is called by Miss Devel because it is too quiet down in the dungeon. There are twelve different monsters there, including all of the classic horror movie monsters. Besides Frankenstein, there is a skeleton, a werewolf, a mummy, the creature from the black lagoon, and others. But it is Frankenstein who attracts Miss Devel's attention. His head is missing! Frankenstein is trucked off to the laboratory, where he is given a new head, fastened on with those requisite screws. He wreaks havoc, eating the medical staff and the ceiling before Miss Devel and the rest of the group come to visit. And predictably, the night after the visit to the hospital, Miss Devel senses again that something is not right. She rushes to the dungeon door, only to see that every monster has lost their head. It is only in Miss Devel's hilarious response to this situation that the book deviates slightly, but it is great fun.
I think I should pause here to acknowledge that Ludworst Bemonster is a pseudonym for author Rick Walton and illustrator Nathan Hale. Their work is almost flawless and there is just as much enjoyment to be had for adult readers as there is for children who are familiar with Madeline. The rhyming text is almost perfect, and I am impressed with how well they created a story that had to both fit a pre-existing rhyme scheme and pay homage to the familiar plot. And the illustrations! The illustrations, too, pay homage to the original while also acknowledging the classic horror movies of our society. And just like the text, they have a sense of tongue in cheek humor too.
Hale has turned all those classic movie monsters into young children, and as frightening as they might want to be, they are pretty darn cute. On the front cover, Frankenstein turns to peek back at the reader, he does so with an adorable crooked grin that makes me want to scoop him up and kiss him. Miss Devel looks like a hip, steampunk mad scientist as she races down the stairs to her charges. And Dr. Bone wears a dapper suit and enormous voodoo mask with a large bone through its nose. These are the details that make this book so (dare I say it?) charming.
Where Madeline visits the zoo, and shows her bravery by pooh-poohing the tiger, Frankenstein actually frightens the other animals. The illustration shows Miss Devel frantically restraining some of the charges, while the rest run amok. The creature from the black lagoon is diving into the hippopotamus pool, the vampire is astride the ostrich, biting his neck. But the majority of the animals are watching Frankenstein, who stands calmly in the middle of the chaos. When they visit Frankenstein in the laboratory, the monsters arrive in a hilarious motorcycle/open-air carriage combination that really has to be seen. The looks of the drivers around them as Miss Devel steers determinedly are priceless.
This book is worth finding and comparing to Madeline. But it is clever and hilarious in its own right too. Enjoy the Youth Media Awards tomorrow, and find Frankenstein.
Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody. Ludworst Bemonster. Feiwel and Fiends, 2012. borrowed from Lewis & Clark Public Library
Madeline. Ludwig Bemelmans. Scholastic, 1939, 1982.