I love this book. I'm pretty sure Quentin and Russell had my youngest son, Oscar, in mind when they created it. Anybody who has spent a little time with Oscar knows that he has pledged his allegiance to the Dark Side. Woe betide you if you suggest that he might want to dress up as a superhero, or take on the role of the valiant prince in pretend play. It's baddies all the way with Oscar. And who can blame him. Everyone knows villains are more interesting than heroes. I'd take the charismatic Loki over the bland, thuggish Thor, any day.
Really, since the concept of good and bad crystallised in Oz's brain, he knew who he was rooting for. Even his imaginary friend seemed a little bit evil: Nikker, the shape-shifting, age-shifting (but unwaveringly female) force of darkness. Oscar describes Nikker as having black teeth and a curved spine. She lives in a hollow tree, sleeps on a bed of bugs and will only eat mustard custard*. Most disturbingly, he once told me that she had "come over to help fix the knives". I'm a little bit sad that she doesn't seem to come out to play any more.
So we know a thing or two about monsters in this house. I do sometimes wonder what psychological purpose this heterodox imaginary world serves Oscar, but I like to think that it shows an independent spirit and a willingness to question societal norms. Occasionally, though, teachers and visitors have revealed a flash of concern or confusion, when they have realised what's going on. In those moments, I'd like to have silently handed over a copy of "Monsters" to them.
"Monsters" features John, a boy with a passion for drawing bristling, scarred monsters engaged in violent, armed battles. After embarking on a particularly "serious"-looking monster, parental concern creeps in. The concern is dismissed by the boy's art teacher, who reassures the parents that "Boys are naturally a little monstrous." However, the scale of the drawing compels the parents to seek the advice of Dr Plunger. His initial solution is to offer the parents a little "calmer" to bring their anxiety a down a notch or two. However, he eventually consents to meet with the boy. I won't give away the ending. Parents should feel appropriately warned against pathologising a lively imagination.
Oscar loves the pull-out, revealing part of John's monstrous drawing and we thought we'd have a bash at our own creature, today. Oscar informs me that it's a work-in-progress, but it's already looking pretty formidable.
* This diet was undoubtedly inspired by Michael Rosen's fabulous "Mustard, Custard, Grumble Belly & Gravy" - a brilliant book of poems, beloved by Oscar.