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The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books:
March's Big Picture

The Big Picture is a monthly in-depth look at
selected new titles and trends.

No Such Thing written by Jackie French Koller;
illus. by Betsy Lewin. Boyds Mills, 1997. [32p]
ISBN 1-56397-490-8 $14.95
Reviewed from galleys
4-7 years

So little Johnny can't sleep? He thinks there's a bogey man hiding in the dark? You think he needs a little bibliotherapeutic reassurance? Well, this sure isn't it. In fact, Koller's latest opus delivers the gentle genre of bedtime stories a blow from which it might take a while to recover, but kids will find this new interpretation monstrously entertaining.

Howard has just moved into a big old house with "neat little nooks and crannies" and "funny little closets and cupboards" to explore. But when the lights go out and he's alone in his big old bed, Howard knows there's something terrifying lurking around. And this time our child hero is right on the money. Not only is there a monster under the bed, but that monster is equally terrified of the boy he knows is lying right above him. Both repeatedly summon their skeptical mommies to check out the premise s, and of course neither mommy is buying her son's story. Howard's mommy demonstrates that the monster's "tail" is merely a jump rope; monster's mommy shows him that mysterious "fingers" are no more than his pet tarantula.

Confrontation is inevitable, and it's gloriously realized in a double spread in which a bug-eyed, ashen, gape-mouthed Howard meets the horrified gaze of a bug-eyed, bilious green, gape-mouthed monster, and they simultaneously erupt in a bold-face "Aagh! " Howard and monster go running, angry mommies haul their sons back to inspect the now-empty bed and floor, but a good night's sleep is still a long way off. Weeping Howard and "whimpling" monster cautiously check each other out and, in a touching moment of interspecies bonding, realize they are both beset by mommies who don't take them seriously. In a cliff-hanging finale, they switch places on and under the bed, coyly calling, "Oh, Mommy . . . Mommy, come quick!"

This lusciously seditious comeuppance won't be lost on the audience, who will be ready, willing, and able to supply an ensuing scenario. Primary teachers who are looking for an open-ended tale for students to complete should, indeed, pounce on this one. Field-tested on ninety-plus first-graders in three storytimes, the story evoked an unsolicited cacophony of responses. There was the histrionic ending: "Howard's mommy will probably faint." There was the pragmatic ending: "Howard's mommy will dial 9 -1-1." There was the pessimistic ending: "Howard's mommy still won't believe him and will punish him anyway." And there was the happy ending: "Howard's mommy and monster's mommy will make friends, too."

No doubt the children's responses have much to do with their assessment of their own mommies' probable action under similar pressure. Spookier than the green monster, spookier than Lewin's heavy black scrawls and subtle shadows, spookier than the throat -ripping "Aagh!" is Koller's all-too-accurate portrayal of exasperated mommyhood, which audience and reader will instantly recognize. Escalating impatience evidently cuts right across species, as monstrous sweet reason transmutes to "The re, are you satisfied now?" which finally explodes into "I've had it, Monster. If I have to come in here again, you are going to be twaddled." Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it?

And so, when Mommy reads little Johnny No Such Thing for a good-night giggle and sees herself in the supporting role, guess who's going to have trouble sleeping?

--Elizabeth Bush, Reviewer

This page was last updated on March 1, 1997.