When I was four years old, back in 1976, I was run over by a car. I suffered a broken collar bone and a punctured lung, and I spent two months in the hospital. While I was recuperating, I had visitors and lots of presents and all that jazz, but of the many gifts I received back then, I only SPECIFICALLY remember TWO. I remember my Ricochet Racer gun that shot toy cars out of it, and I remember the Little Golden Book, The Monster at the End of This Book, starring Grover from Sesame Street! Now a normal human being might ask, why the HELL is a grown man writing a review of a children’s book he got when he was four years old? Because the book is actually extraordinary.
Jon Stone and Michael Smollin – The Monster at the End of This Book (1971/1999)
I loved Sesame Street when I was a kid, and Grover (originally voiced by Frank Oz) was my favorite character. I imagine that whoever got me The Monster at the End of This Book knew that, but maybe they didn’t. Even back then, I was a fan of monsters, so that might be why someone bought it for me. (I no longer remember WHO bought it.) Regardless of how I got the book, it quickly became one of my favorites because of the unique qualities of the story. Jon Stone, the author of the book, was actually one of the writers for and producers of Sesame Street, and the words that come out of Grover’s mouth in this tale are absolutely authentic to the character as I knew him from the show. The artist, Michael Smollin, did a fantastic job on the art, as well, using what appears to be a pen and ink line with (I believe) watercolors for coloring. The story itself is told in giant word balloons “spoken” by Grover, and the lettering is in a very 1970’s pop style, almost on the verge of psychedelic art (like much of the art that appeared in the t.v. show.) The visuals are detailed and funny and cool, as well as being extremely expressive and fun to look at.
As I mentioned, the characterization of Grover is spot on, and I could practically HEAR him (or Frank Oz) delivering the lines, but what really makes this book stand out is the form of the story. This remarkable book, for the kids who were lucky enough to encounter it, is most likely the reader’s first experience with “metatextuality.” Unlike most books that take place in some specific setting where the characters go about their business apparently unaware that they are in a work of fiction, Grover KNOWS that he is in a book, he is aware of the fact that he is surrounded by paper pages, and throughout the book he talks directly to the reader. He asks questions, he makes suggestions, and, most amusingly, he asks the kids who are reading the book to NOT turn the pages! The premise of the story is simple: Grover reads on the title page of the book that the story is called The Monster at the End of This Book, and because he is afraid of monsters (even though he is one), he begs and pleads with the kids reading the book to stop turning pages, so that they won’t get any closer to the scary monster at the end!
It’s a brilliant set up, because of course the reader is going to keep turning pages, and each time a page is turned, Grover gets more and more upset, and he comes up with more and more elaborate means of stopping the reader from turning the NEXT page. As a kid, I found this book to be an absolute kick. I loved Grover already, and I loved the schemes that he came up with to keep the pages from turning, and the end (no spoilers) is also pretty clever. The details in Smollin’s art are fantastic, capturing Grover’s dramatic gestures perfectly, as well as showing little ruined bits of Grover’s previous attempts to keep the pages from turning at the left-hand edge of the pages. It’s also obvious that Stone was brilliant, as he crafts a near perfect gimmick—making the reader an ACTOR in the story that’s occurring—which completely engaged me as a child, and judging by the fact that the book is STILL IN PRINT four and a half decades after it was first published, it must have impressed a few other people as well! I’m 45 years old now, and I still chuckled as I was rereading the book for this review. You may think you’re too old for kids’ books, and if that’s true then I feel sorry for you, either because you’ve forgotten how to think like a kid OR because you never read the RIGHT kids books when you were young. Either way, The Monster at the End of This Book is still fantastic, and it will definitely be one of the very first books I buy for my grand-kids, if my kids ever get around to making any!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Commander in Cheap of The P.E.W.)