When Monster Have Minds of Their Own

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers' Center

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers’ Center

By Kathy Higgs-Coulthard

With Halloween soon at hand, I’d like to take a moment to talk about monsters.

At one point or another all of us have two-stepped it from the light switch to the bed, yanked the covers over our heads, and hoped like heck the monster didn’t see us. Whether it’s the boogeyman or a subterranean troll, childhood fears are universal. In fact, one study found that as many as 74% of 4-6 year olds self-report being afraid of monsters and ghosts.

You might wonder how a four year old even knows what a ghost is—it’s not like his parents handed him a bowl of popcorn and said, “Come on, son, it’s family night—let’s watch Poltergeist.” Still, monsters are as integral to American culture as baseball. Test this theory: Lay out pictures of Frankenstein, Dracula, Godzilla, and The Hulk next to snapshots of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, and Willie Mays. All classics. Now see which ones your six year old can name. At my house the score was 3-0. (But don’t worry, Hannah’ll bat 1000 as soon as we introduce her to the Avengers next week.)

Monsters get a bad rap, but the truth is we need them. (We need baseball players, too—but that’s a different blog.) For years, psychologists have been looking at the role of monsters in children’s development. Monsters in movies and books place abstract fears like abandonment and powerlessness in physical form. Watching heroes triumph over monsters teaches us that we too can triumph over our fears.

But monsters are changing, my friends. It’s no longer easy to tell the difference between monsters and teddy bears—just look at Sully from Monsters Inc. He’s fluffy, for Pete’s sake. And what’s worse, monsters aren’t following the classic do-something-scary-and-then-be-defeated scenario. They’ve started thinking for themselves. Just take The Monster Who Ate My Peas. It has eyestalks and tentacles. It lurks in the kitchen just waiting for its chance to…eat our yucky vegetables? In the words of my eldest daughter, “Wait—what?” Katie’s 14, but she sat right down and read that book to see why the monster would want to help the boy. Turns out it wanted something else entirely. And Gabe—the monster that lives under Nathan’s bed in I Need My Monster—goes on vacation. I’d like to know where in his contract it says he gets vacation. Speaking of contracts…Zack should have read his before he paid the owner of The Monstore good money for a monster to scare his little sister.

No, these creatures are not the usual suspects. They have redefined what it means to be a monster and because of that, even adults won’t be able to put these books down.

monster who ate peas coverTitleThe Monster Who Ate My Peas
Author: Danny Schnitzlein
Illustrator: Matt Faulkner
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

monstore

Title: The Monstore
Author: Tara Lazar
Illustrator: James Burks
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

i need my monsterTitle: I Need My Monster
Author: Amanda Noll
Illustrator: Howard McWilliam
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Okay this might be cheating, but in thinking about monsters and bedtime fears, I have to include a fantastic resource for parents. Child psychologist Margaret Jessop has written a great story about a little boy who overcomes his fear of the dark. It’s available FREE on her website along with suggestions for what parents can do to help banish bedtime fears.

Title: Nighty-night Knight
Author: Margaret Ann Jessop
Genre: Read-aloud story
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

http://margaretjessoppsyd.com/free-childrens-book-nighty-night-knight/

5 Comments to “When Monster Have Minds of Their Own”

  1. My kids have been scared of monsters in the closet thanks to Monsters Inc so i feel bad they watched it too soon. Thanks for the monster book recommendations, i haven’t heard of most of those.

  2. Yes Kathy, I think we need monsters. They have a way of teaching a lesson.

  3. What an interesting perception – we NEED monsters….hmmmmm…. Thank you. I needed that perspective. My 3 year old has/is going through a monster stage… our answer is there is no monsters that are bad… just silly monsters like Elmo and Grover. And I think I’ll keep with that answer but I may have a new found amount of patience seeing the perspective that the monsters are a physical form of the abstract. Very interesting!

    • I also used the silly monster approach when my kids were little. It worked well. There are so many scary things out there, we don’t need kids to be afraid at age 3.

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