Leonardo the Terrible Monster

Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsHere’s something.

By Mo Willems. Published 2005, by Hyperion Books for Children. (Which I believe is now Disney-Hyperion.)

An old favorite, a forgotten gem. I was plotting a read-aloud for fourth graders, hunting for a picture book about meanness and bragging and being friends with someone different than you. In true Mo Willems style, this thing jumped right off the shelf when I ran my fingers across the spines. True story.

So I ignored my achy-creaky knees, and hovered over this on the floor of the library. It was one of the last purchases I made for the library before I left Virginia for California, but I haven’t given it two shakes of a nod since.

Not surprisingly, it’s brilliant.

It’s sheer size is in direct opposition to how terrible of a monster Leonardo is. I mean, he’s so big that he can’t even be contained to the cover. All we see is a peek of meek eyes and teensy-tiny horns. But we already know he’s pretty bad at being a monster. That juxtaposition is beyond hilarious, right?Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsSo, he’s terrible. And terribly alone. Look at all of the white space on this spread, highlighting just how terrible and terribly alone Leonardo is. It makes his sad face even more pathetic. Awful. Awesome.Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsLeonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsLeonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsAdults laugh at him. He doesn’t have Tony’s outrageous stack of teeth. And then there’s Eleanor, whose purple pedicure and anklet only hint at what kind of monstrous mug she may have.Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsBut Leonardo has an idea  – a fantastic, scare-the-tuna-salad-out-of-a-scaredy-cat-kid idea. His plot gives him some bounces of confidence. And there’s less white space. More text, more oomph, more pizzazz from his plan. He’s not so alone.

Enter: Sam.Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsThe reader knows right away that Sam and Leonardo are cut from the same cloth of lonely. Sam has even more nothing around him. Sam isn’t even facing forward. Sam has the saddest pit of despair behind those wire rims.Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsLeonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsLeonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsSo when Leonardo blaggle-blaggles, grrrrs, and roooaarrrs, Sam cries.

But. It’s not because he’s scared.Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsNow. Here’s where I did a combo of a laugh/snort/cackle/snot/wimper thing. Sam’s white space is filled to the brim with all of the awful things that were bouncing around under his bowl cut. A mean big brother! A stubbed toe! On the same foot that he hurt last month! Bird poo! A hurt tummy!

All of Sam’s insides just tumble out and stun that gruff old Leonardo. Look at how he’s clutching his chest! Swoon.

That’s why.Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsAnd then – an epic page turn. Leonardo’s smart, caring, friend-brain fills up all of that white space. It’s like the part where the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes. By seeing his whole face, his thought process, and those very un-monster eyes, we watch his heart change. Just like that.Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsLeonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo WillemsThe way Mo Willems uses space and size in this book shows us so much about Leonardo, Sam, and ourselves.

Friends. Flipping you forward since about forever.

ch

P.S. – For those fourth graders? Ended up going with Each Kindness, which is lovely beyond measure, and the moment was just shy of heart stopping. It was a perfect picture book morning. 

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22 thoughts on “Leonardo the Terrible Monster

  1. I checked this out from our library this summer for my 5-year-old. It was a huge hit with both of us. I just love Mo Willems. Such a wonderful story and pictures.

  2. Carter, I’m so glad you brought this to my (our) attention! This book is adorable, and its message!—LOVE it!!! To me, Sam is perfect. The look on his “scared” face, then the purple “venting” page! PRICELESS! Definitely checking this one out :) Thanks!

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