by Alice Hoogstad is a 2014 wordless picture book that celebrates the power of imagination. It starts with a crisp, black-and-white drawing of a bustling cityscape, but then a girl with brilliant chalk enters the picture. From a vivid line of color to a flourishing red heart, to a quintet of mischievous monsters, her drawings rise up and take to the streets to leave no stone uncolored. When the townsfolk, the police, and finally a rain cloud conspire to stop the spread of bright hues, will the city dwindle into dark lines again?
In the book’s opening pages, a young girl appears on a street that winds like a white ribbon through a throng of black-outlined buildings. In her hand is a piece of red chalk, and she traces a conspicuous line along a stretch of the white street. She pulls the chalk up the wall of a house, where she tops off the long, red line with a heart. As she runs off to begin a new drawing, a little dog grabs the line and follows her, towing the heart like a balloon on a string.
While sweeping housewives, men in top-hats, and alley cats look on, the girl colors a big orange monster in the center of their tidy street. With red polka dots and bird-like back feet, the monster is more charming than menacing. After the girl moves down the street to create another monster, the orange creature leaps to its feet. A woman pauses with her broom to watch in wonder as the animated drawing dashes away.
Brandishing a green piece of chalk, the girl sets to work on a large, white wall bordering the street. A monster with six eyes on its head and a row of protruding eyes along its back emerges. It steps down from the wall, takes the orange monster’s three-fingered hand, and the striking couple dances past bemused bystanders.
Next in the girl’s line of monster drawings is a blue, furry beast with two horns on its head and a severe over-bite. Joining hands with the other two monsters, the blue creature whisks the hat off a nearby man and perches it between its horns. As the trio sashays away, the man points towards his departing hat in a gesture of protest. Meanwhile, the girl sets loose with her chalk two more monsters: an octopus-like character and a purple creature with an enormous yellow beak.
Armed with chalk of their own, the five monsters parade around town, coloring every building from top to bottom. Other children pitch in to make their own vivid marks on the city, and the little dog continues to run around joyfully with the red balloon. The townsfolk lean out of windows and stop their cars to watch these dazzling developments with expressions of astonishment.
The monsters go beyond the pale, however, when they start scribbling their chalk on the townspeople themselves. Reacting with concern to the growing disorder, the neighborhood policeman holds up his hand to halt the coloring frenzy. An aggravated man takes matters into his own hands by turning his hose on the blue monster, who simply opens an umbrella to defend against being washed away. Sporting blue and yellow patches on their faces and shirts, residents cross their arms in disapproval as the monsters and children gleefully continue to saturate the once spotless town with radiant hues.
When a broom-wielding woman discovers her cat’s tail and hindquarters have turned shades of pink and orange, her frown speaks for all the grown-ups in the town. They want to return to the clean, sharp lines that originally defined their houses and streets; they won’t tolerate any more coloring. Surrendering to the outcry for order, the children end their escapade. While the monsters run off to hide, the girl and several other children take buckets and brushes, and as they start scrubbing, white patches reappear.
A sudden cloudburst drenches the town. The children drop their buckets and run for cover as the rain quickly erases all the colors, restoring everything to black and white. When sunshine returns and dries the streets, the children and their monster friends venture out once again with chalk, ready to renew their coloring.
Wordless picture books such as Monster Book
invite close scrutiny and imaginative interpretations. Some of the themes that may be gleaned from the pages of Monster Book
include the irrepressibility of creativity, the value of diversity, and the age-old clash between children and grown-ups. The inspiration for Hoogstad’s Monster Book
came from her own childhood coloring campaign and its relentless opposition. During her morning walks to school, she amused herself by leaving a trail of “brightly colored drawings.” Hoogstad recalls, “The housewives in our village were neat mistresses with floral aprons,” and every day they “did clean the sidewalk in front of their house,” and every morning she colored it again.Monster Book
earned Hoogstad the 2015 Golden Paintbrush award.