Friday, November 06, 2009

The Monsterologist by Bobbi Katz, ill. by Adam McCauley

There are books that I like, and books that I love, and books that I wish that I'd written. This book falls into that last category (actually, all three categories, really), for a number of reasons. Because it's gotten far later in the day than I'd anticipated (I had to take M and her friend into Philly for the day, and managed to lose the entire afternoon along the way), I'm going with a list-like review in discussing The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme "ghostwritten by" Bobbi Katz and illustrated by Adam McCauley.

1. Even though this is nothing over which an author (usually) has control, this book is the complete package. It has (as you can see) a terrific cover. What you can't tell is what it's made of. Now, I don't know all my publishing terms, really, so bear with me. The cover has the feel of a yearbook to it (at least the types of yearbooks they had back in the late 70s and early 80s when I was in high school - I graduated in 1981, for those who are curious). And the black vines that you can see on the front of the book (and the inner black-line frame) are stamped into the cover. The gold stuff is actually metallic gold. Even before you open this book, it feels good in your hands. And then, you open it up, and there are fabulous end pages. Want to see them? (The only acceptable answer to that question is "yes", really). Here they are:



They look like a page full of stamps. Kind of like Christmas Seals, but with monsters. And the best part? On the flip side of the loose end paper, which is slick and glossy, is a tan field with cream-colored perforations. As if the page were really stamps. If I didn't love this book so much, I might be tempted to cut the page out and do something crafty with it. Of course I won't, because I love the book. But really, it's awfully tempting.

The pages of the book are not shiny or glossy or coated or slick. They are instead very thick indeed, and matte, and, well, paper-feeling. They feel substantial and important in your hand. And that's just the feel of them. Since this item is going on far too long already, I'll tackle some of the other design-related elements in the following numbers, where I talk about things like art and text and fold-out pages and tables of contents and stuff.

2. The front matter is both clear and creatively presented. The "short title" page is a map of the world drawn from above the North Pole, along with a figure of a guy's back, striding into the map, and a "business" card with the book's title on it (along with a gate number, a room number, and what I presume is a phone number: "HEMLOCK 9736" - N.B. for the younger set: In the olden days, the first three numbers (called the exchange number") were often a combination of names and numbers - my grandmother's exchange in Narberth years and years ago was "Mohawk 4", which one dialed as "664". Brilliant.

There follows a dedication page and "A Preliminary Note" from "The Monsterologist", written in rhymed couplets. It's essentially a Preface. Again, brilliant. Then follows the front matter, which includes an (entertaining) illustrator's note as well as all the copyright information, in a collage format including artwork, and the "long title" page with the requisite information cleverly presented as a piece of correspondence from "Ct. Vl. Dracula" lodged on what appears to be a patterned piece of paper, followed by a two-page table of contents that includes page numbers. Those of you who know me know how much I love my tables of contents and page numbers when dealing with a poetry collection. Major props to Katz and/or Sterling for ensuring that one can find one's way around the book this way.

Seriously? The layout (and artwork) just in these opening pages before we get to the actual poetry collection is genius. GENIUS, I tell you. As are the bios for Katz and McCauley at the back of the book.

3. This is a 50-page picture book, which includes three different fold-outs. The first contains the poem "Understanding Grendel" along with a recipe for "Danish Pastry". The second contains "Frankenstein's Monster". The third fold out is not a full-page fold out, but is instead about 5" worth - on one side, it appears to be an envelope, on the reverse side it contains an "International Zombie Survey" - one of the only elements in the book that is not in poetry, but which is highly amusing and related to the zombie/research poem on the facing page, "R.I.P." Below, a copy of the Grendel poem (folded out) from the B&N website:



This seems as good a place as any to feature a poem, and why not give you the text of "Understanding Grendel", which refers to the famed monster from Beowulf?

Many centuries ago, long before my birth,
the monster Grendel roared a roar,
  then stomped
    across
        the earth.
All I knew about him were stories that I read:
Beowulf killed Grendel. For years they've both been dead.
Grendel is still famouse for his dreadful appetite:
sneaking snacks of snoozing danes, noshing every night.

Grendel had a mom, they say, who doted on her son.
She called him "Tootsie-Wootsie" and "Mommy's Honey Bun."
Yet I suspect that Grendel was tutored by none other
to indulge his crude food cravings by his very monstrous . . .
  mother!
I happened upon evidence that makes me think this way,
when wandering in Denmark on a hiking holiday.
Exploring a dank mossy cave, what did I see?
A moldy piece of parchment with this ancient recipe:

Whereupon follows this recipe, which I'll give you only a taste of. Get it? I kill me!

DANISH PASTRY

Take half a dozen dozing Danes.
Split their skulls.
Pull out their brains.
Tear off arms.
Tear off legs.
Add flour to
well-beaten eggs.

To get the rest of the recipe (and read the rest of the highly entertaining and diverse poems), I urge you to get your oven mitts on a copy of this book ASAP. But I'm getting ahead of myself. A head. See what I did there? Oh, never mind!

4. The book contains a rather large and diverse assortment of monstrous poems. (Monstrous is used here to mean "concerning monsters", and not "abominable" - although there is a poem about the Yeti, come to that.) Some of the monsters here can also be found in Adam Rex's rather playful Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dracula, Medusa, Godzilla, Frankenstein's monster, Werewolves and the Yeti. Some of them are missing - for example, there are no mummies in The Monsterologist. And some of them are just plain . . . different.

In addition to Grendel, there are poems about the ghosts of various musicians, including Franz Shubert, Louis Armstrong and Elvis Presley, about trolls (hilariously positing that perhaps the days of trolls collecting tolls are not actually bygone), the Golem (a so-called "kind monster"), the Kraken, the Compu-Monster (which gobbles data and files, naturally), the "Verbivore" (that snacks on the verbs in library books) and a demonstration of its power in a piece called "The Worms ____ In", which invites readers to fill in the holes where the verbs have been eaten, a poem putting forth a theory about an as-yet undiscovered monster ("The Suds-Surfing Sock-Eater: A Conjecture"), and this chilling piece entitled "Bluebeard's Personal Ad" (chilling if you know the story of Bluebeard, that is):

Widower seeks maiden fair
to share a life of ease:
large yachts and gorgeous castle;
right girl gets ALL the keys!
Respond to the address below;
send recent picture, please.
    - Bluebeard
    General Delivery, London


Bluebeard's poem is accompanied by a short note/poem from the Monsterologist that is seen lying on the page (along with a rather hefty iron key ring full of skeleton keys):

Each year or so I see this ad
  and feel a helpless chill.
Will some young damsel answer it?
  Alas, I know one will.


5. The book has its own website, www.themonsterologist.com, which includes a book trailer with a scratchy recording of the short poem that can be found on the back of the book, as well as recordings of four poems from the book, a game, and other things including a series of Q&As.

Edited to add: I've learned from a lovely email from Adam McCauley that the design work (material choices, fonts, design decisions, etc.) were done by Cynthia Wigginton. Major kudos to her for her work.



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2 comments:

Blythe Woolston said...

Wow! Just Wow! This is quite an artifact. You presented it beautifully, too. Thanks so much.

Kelly Fineman said...

It's a fabulous collection and worthy of much love. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Blythe!