When I was a kid, my imaginary friend was nameless and unacknowledged. Sure that others, including my parents, would think I was weird, I never mentioned my imaginary friend to anyone.
How times have changed! Not only are there plenty of picture books about imaginary friends, Dan Santat’s The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (Little, Brown, 2014) won this year’s Caldecott Medal. So much for weird.
Marilyn’s Monster (Candlewick Press, 2015), by Michelle Knudsen, with illustrations by Matt Phelan is a variation on having an imaginary friend. Knudsen’s heart-felt storytelling and Phelan’s expressive illustrations work together to create a satisfying emotional journey all children will recognize.
Having a monster is “the latest thing,” but Marilyn doesn’t have one yet. “Your monster has to find you.” Soon, Marilyn is “the only one left without a monster.” At first she’s sad, and “tried to be the kind of girl no monster could resist.” Then she gets mad and tries to convince herself she doesn’t need a monster. Deep in her heart, though, Marilyn knows she wants a monster “more than she could say.” She defies the rules and takes matters into her own hands. She follows her instinct, faces her fears, and sets off in search of her monster. Along the way she discovers, like Beekle, that sometimes it’s necessary to push back against conventional wisdom to achieve your goal.
Marilyn’s happiness at the end of the book is more than just satisfaction at having found her monster. It’s far deeper than that. It’s happiness that comes from the confidence gained by overcoming her fears and accomplishing her goal by herself.
Marilyn’s Monster is an endearing book that young audiences will love, but I would share it with second and third graders, too. Not only will they enjoy the story, they will learn much about word choice, tension, and character growth from Knudsen’s masterful writing. In addition, Marilyn’s Monster and The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend are a perfect pairing for comparing and contrasting point of view and setting. Most importantly, though, the theme that when you follow your heart, anything is possible is one worth sharing again and again.