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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My Teacher is a MONSTER! (No, I am Not), written and illustrated by Peter Brown. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2014. $20.00 ages 5 and up

"No recess for children
who throw paper
airplanes in class.

Ms. Kirby was a monster.

Bobby spent his free time
in the park, trying to forget
his teacher problems.

But one Saturday morning..."

It happened a very long time ago, when I was first teaching kindergarten in the early 1970s. I was shopping on the weekend when I met one of my students with her mother. The little girl stopped dead in the middle of the aisle and stammered YOU GO SHOPPING? It surprised me as I hadn't had much experience with five year old school children. It taught me a lesson about how young children imagine their teachers living life: living at the school, and doing teacher things all the time!

Bobby is one of those boys who make teaching worthwhile, and who make you earn your money. His behavior often leaves something to be desired. Ms. Kirby certainly shows her alarm at his actions when his paper airplane sails past her ear and lands at her feet. Her response is immediate:


Bobby is not pleased with his recess!

So, imagine how he feels when a Saturday visit to the park brings him face to face with his teacher 'monster'. He is incredulous, and scared:

"Bobby wanted to run!
He wanted to hide!
But he knew that would
only make things worse."

Neither wants to see the other; what can they do? They have an uneasy chat, and Bobby expresses his surprise at finding her away from school. A wind comes to his rescue when it blows Ms. Kirby's hat from her head. Bobby retrieves it, eliciting a surprise compliment from his teacher. The relationship begins to change, as they share some of the joys found in the park. Keen observers are sure to note that the changes are also physical ones.

I think that Peter Brown does brilliant work. Using India ink, watercolor, gouache and pencil on paper in a subdued palette is absolutely appropriate for the book's funny take on this child/teacher relationship. His tone definitely brightens as the story moves forward.

In a recent interview with Maria Popova at  the author talked about his books:

The further I get in my career, the more I think about my readers. I see it as my responsibility to create books that will make kids laugh and think and want to pick up another book. The hope is that I might, in some small way, help to grow the number of readers in the world. And the best way to make more readers is to help people fall in love with reading at an early age. So I try to make stories and characters and art that appeal to the excitement and curiosity that occurs naturally in children.
The optimism in my stories is no accident. But I think you’ll find that in addition to positivity there’s always a dose of reality in my stories. Each of my characters face real disappointment, and their story is about them overcoming their disappointment. That’s real, and kids get it."

Beautifully done, once more!

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