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 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.
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.”
“You’re always the troublemaker.”
“Because I said.”
“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 for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.