Scary monsters

This week at Carrot Ranch Communications Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a monster story.  Being an early childhood teacher I think immediately of picture books. Two of my favourites are The Gruffalo, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, and The Monster at the End of this Book , written by Jon Stone and illustrated by Michael Smollin.

The Gruffalo

The Gruffalo is as fearsome as any monster you are likely to meet with its “terrible tusks, and terrible claws, And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws”; “a poisonous wart at the end of his nose” and “purple prickles all over his back”. The quick witted mouse, who imagines the Gruffalo into storybook “reality”, must find a way of ridding himself of the monster’s inherent danger and once again uses his ingenuity to escape.

I’m not sure if it was Donaldson’s intention, but I think this is a great analogy for the monsters we create for ourselves such as self-doubt, unrealistic expectations, and (you can add your own monster here). Not that I’d be sharing that thought with young children.

In this video Axel Scheffler explains his concept of the Gruffalo and even hints, a couple of times, that he too may be troubled by that all too common of personal monsters, self-doubt.

Monster at the end of this book

Throughout The Monster at the end of this Book Grover, from Sesame Street, pleads with the reader to not turn the page as there is a monster at the end of the book. You could almost say he is immobilised by this fear, or that he tries to immobilise the reader. Of course it is a lot of fun and provides much laughter. When we (reader and Grover) do get to the end of the book, he is rather embarrassed to find that he, “lovable, furry, old Grover” is the Monster. He tries to assure us that we, and not he, were the scared ones.

Of course Grover wasn’t the monster only at the end of the book. He was always the “lovable, furry” harmless monster. It was his fear that was the real monster. How often are we immobilised by our fear, and how often when we take that jump despite it, do we find our fears to be groundless? Sometimes I think, or is it only me, we are our own worst monsters setting ourselves impossible targets with too-high expectations that lead us only to disappointment if we don’t achieve them.

But if we view ourselves as works in progress, in the process of working out where we want to be and how to get there, we can find contentment in what we achieve along the way, in where we are and how far we have come, rather than ignoring those milestones and looking only at how much further we must (in our own minds) go.

It is all too easy to contribute to the development of children’s personal monsters by doing to them what we do to ourselves: setting unrealistic targets, expecting too much, insisting on error-free work, measuring them against external benchmarks … To avoid this, we need to view them also as works in progress and encourage them, through a growth mindset, to reach their own milestones and goals in the time that is right for them.

Like the mindset of the mouse in The Gruffalo who was able to think on his feet and overcome the obstacles, or that of Grover who realised there was really nothing to be worried about at all.

We need to be not afraid of the monsters under the bed or in the cupboard, most of which we have created in our imaginations and stuffed there, sometimes with the assistance of others, allowing them to multiply like wire coat hangers until there is no room left for anything good. I have taken the theme of internal monsters for my response to Charli’s challenge.

Open, close them, open anew

The picture was clear. Taken with wide open shutters and long exposure, then developed in black and white for extra clarity, the result was undeniable and exactly what would be expected.

“You’ll never amount to anything.”

“That’s rubbish.”

“Pathetic.”

“You’re always the troublemaker.”

“Because I said.”

“Shut up!”

“Stop asking questions.”

An existence devoid of value was drilled with reminders hurled unrelentingly from birth. Well-schooled in self-loathing, the lessons were regurgitated without effort or question. The monsters without had created the monster within. How could one escape from what was recognised only as truth?

And now for something a little lighter:

The Monster Mash

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

22 thoughts on “Scary monsters

  1. Bec

    Hi Nori, I really enjoyed your FF. It shows so powerfully the importance of words, and the damage that can be done by other people. I do think though, that in The Gruffalo, the mouse seems like a bully. I haven’t read the book though – have just seen the animation once when the little ones were watching it. I was surprised that it didn’t end with friendship and understanding.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Bec. I’ll have to re-read and reconsider the Gruffalo in the light of your comments. I hadn’t considered him a bully, more resourceful in ensuring he remained off the menu of his predators. I’ll have a re-read and a think. Thanks.

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  2. katespencer17

    My last post was about the use of the word ‘fierce’ to describe the type of daughter some mothers want to raise. Others want to raise strong daughters who were courageous. What my post did not talk about was the ‘side-bar’ discussions that inevitably happened in each interview. You touched on one theme that came up a lot: “It is all too easy to contribute to the development of children’s personal monsters by doing to them what we do to ourselves”. Top of the mothers lists were: setting unrealistic expectations, measuring them against outside benchmarks or our adult selves and one more: giving youngsters many choices way before they are ready to handle them. As Charli said, consciously or sub-consciously we are setting standards that seed the monsters within. Thanks for adding Monster Mash at the end…. had me all smiles. Great post and flash Norah!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Kate, for adding to the richness of the discussion. I will endeavour to get over and read your post soon. I’ve been a bit short on time over the past couple of weeks, and the next couple have distractions as well, but I I know I will find your post interesting. It is unfortunate that we seed those monsters for others, often handing them down through the generations. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Pingback: Where Monsters Lurk « Carrot Ranch Communications

  4. Charli Mills

    Strange how we don’t want to teach children about self-doubt yet many standards of education such as error-free overriding creative expression is what can seed the feeling. Your flash expresses what it is like to have those messages from the outside monster grow one inside. Love the Monster Mash! That ends all on a happy note, as does the Gruffalo.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Charli. I think it is important to avoid sowing the seeds of self-doubt in children’s minds. I thought later that I hadn’t actually made that explicit, only implied it. I meant that for young children I wouldn’t raise the issue of self-doubt when reading the story, unless they raised it. I think it would be a great discussion starter for older children or adults though.

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  5. Sarah Brentyn

    Yes. The monsters outside “had created the monster within…” I’ve seen this first-hand. I think we are often our own monster. On a lighter note, as you say, no picture book library is complete without I Need My Monster. It is AWESOME. 💙💚💙 I still read that to myself…I mean my kids. 😜

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    1. Norah Post author

      Yeah, isn’t it great to have kids as an excuse for reading some of the best books ever written! Who cares whether we read the books to them or ourselves! 🙂
      I’ll have to check out “I Need my Monster”. It looks good (I had a peek online) but don’t have time to read now. I enjoyed your last recommendation. I’m sure I’ll enjoy this one too. Thanks.:)

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  6. Sacha Black

    Interesting. This post made my mind wonder off to images of Venn diagrams and how much fear and self doubt overlap. I am suffering a bout of debilitating self doubt at the moment it almost made me quit writing. But it doesn’t feel like the root of that is fear… I don’t feel afraid of anything as such. Fear seems to be a hot topic at the moment though, seen a few discussions round it. Oh and the gruffalo… Is awesome! I have many books by her.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m pleased to hear your little one is getting a good dose of Julia Donaldson. Her books are wonderful with their rhythmic language, rhyming words – and fun! Scheffler has illustrated a few for her. His illustrations are magnificent too.
      I think my self-doubt is based in fear of what others will think. The success of my website depends upon that. However, whether others find the resources useful or not, I enjoy making them and thinking about sharing them with children. I have no doubt of their value – for me!

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    2. Norah Post author

      I forgot to say – don’t quit writing! I don’t think you could. Your writing is you, and you are it, and that is where you need to be. And we your readers need you to be!

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  7. Annecdotist

    Indeed, if we’re taught to be fearful, we will be – beautifully portrayed in your flash. And, I so love the Gruffalo (it even gets a mention in my novel) though never actually read it to any real kids!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your encouragement, Anne. I often feel quite a novice among you more experienced and talented fiction writers. Is the Gruffalo mentioned in “Underneath”. Or was it in “Sugar and Snails”? If so, I don’t recall it, but I wouldn’t have noticed it as anything unusual. It wasn’t mentioned when Diana told her bedtime story, was it? It is a fun book to read aloud.

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