CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 11 . . . . February 3, 2006
Sophie is afraid of everything—especially sea monsters. Then, her worst fear comes true. She discovers a sea monster under her bed. But the sea monster isn’t what she imagined at all. Not only does he sing and dance, he has fears, too.
Don Gillmor, author of the award-winning picture books, Yuck, a Love Story and The Fabulous Song, both illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay, continues this fantastical tale with Sophie mothering the monster and creating activities for the two of them that force the monster to face his worries.
Although it is an amusing idea, the story is lacking. The main conflict, Sophie’s biggest fear, is solved right away when she encounters the funny sea creature. Thus the secondary conflict, the monster’s fears, becomes the main conflict. This fracture ultimately weakens the short text. Although it could be argued that Sophie and the monster are facing fears together, as they try kidney beans for the first time and pet a snake at a zoo, the illustrations contradict that notion. Rosy-cheeked Sophie is never shown frightened. Rather, she is the one dragging the monster to pet the snake and force-feeding him the beans. In fact, the monster doesn’t look too scared either, only bug-eyed. With his animation style watercolors, Michael Martchenko’s illustrations bring to life a story, but not the story of two characters facing fears, rather two crazy characters letting it loose—playing on a teeter-totter, and squirting each other with toothpaste. This makes sense in terms of what Martchenko is familiar illustrating. Martchenko is best known for his partnership with Robert Munsch, and most of Munsch’s stories concern characters the exact opposite of those created here. Munsch’s fictional children are wild and daring (think The Paper Bag Princess, The Mud Puddle, Thomas’s Swimsuit and Mortimer) whereas Sophie and the sea monster are fearful and retreating. The wonderful partnership of Munsch and Martchenko parallels the wonderful partnership of Gillmor and Gay.
Whether or not these writer/illustrator teams produce better books together than this one by Gillmor and Martchenko, the very fact they have produced so many together makes it hard for me to not compare, and be disappointed.
There are redeeming factors, however, which make Sophie and the Sea Monster a worthwhile purchase. The text is well written, with few big words, and since it is printed in a large font, it could make a good early reader text. The two rhymes, songs sung by the monster and Sophie, are hilarious, if rather out-of-place. As well the illustrations, like most of Martchenko’s work, are bright and bouncy. The story is feel-good and sends out a good message, too, advocating friendship and bravery.
Kallie George is currently completing her Masters of Children’s Literature degree at the University of British Columbia.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.