“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” ~C.S. Lewis
Some of the best books from my childhood days tell stories beyond those intended by the author. There’s the book from the Little House series that was dropped in the tub: its fatness now prevents the collection from fitting into the nifty cardboard box the series came in. And there’s the Danny and the Dinosaur book so worn that it’s missing a couple of pages and the A.A. Milne book of poetry with my own love poem to Face from the A-Team written on the endpapers…. Each serves as a reminder of my early childhood days, when I used to find random quiet spots in my house to read—-which always seemed hard with three other siblings.
And I feel, as a literacy professor, a little bit sheepish about the book I’m going to say mattered the most. I feel like my answer should be Danny the Champion of the World or the Cricket in Times Square. And while those both meant a lot to me, neither holds a candle to my beloved The Monster at the End of This Book.
In the age of immediacy and Internet, we take interactions for granted these days, so maybe what I’ll say about this book won’t seem as revolutionary. But here’s why it matters: Jon Stone’s book is written from the voice of Grover and Grover, in turn, speaks directly to the reader. It was an interaction I hadn’t quite experienced with Frog and Toad or Dr. Seuss. Grover had realized from the book title that there’s a monster at the end of the book—and he spends subsequent pages pleading with the reader not to turn the page. It’s light and funny and served as my very first all-out involvement with a book. Grover’s fate depended on me, the reader. It was brilliant.
And the book certainly shows its wear. We fought over it constantly and we read it so much that it has its scars. One of my siblings (or maybe it was me?) even threw up on a doublepage spread. This was pre Amazon.com days—we couldn’t necessarily just get another—so my mom cleaned it up as best as she could. It no longer smells (I know! Gross!) but remains discolored, now nearly three decades later. But we still have it. And it still matters.