Unleash the Unbeastly
Occasionally a picture book comes along which, in my opinion, stands head and shoulders (and most of the rest of its body) above anything else newly published.
Amy Dixon’s Maurice the Unbeastly, wonderfully illustrated by Karl James Mountford, certainly fits the bill here.
Published by Sterling Children’s Books in the US, and released in the UK at the beginning of October, this is a book brilliantly designed to engage stroppy toddlers (and older) and to remind adults reading with them just what a sensation Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are was over fifty years ago.
In many ways Maurice is the antithesis of Sendak’s rebellious young boy Max, being a totally friendly, quiet, calm, tidy, vegetarian young monster, whose distraught parents want to toughen him up to be like the other Beasts. To achieve this they send him off to the Abominable Academy for Brutish Beasts, to learn to be fierce, ugly and gruff, but here he fails every test, until the day a terrifying creature appears, which the other young beasts cannot control. Once Maurice has tamed this dreadful creature (young readers will be delighted to see what this actually is) he becomes the Academy’s official expert on creature taming, and manages to introduce some of his behaviour into the Brutish Beasts’ lives.
Throughout our childhoods we have all been told by our parents, teachers and carers that we must behave better and mustn’t be untidy, fierce, noisy and rude, so the idea of a book in which the main character is a young person being told off for being the opposite of all these things – too well-behaved, friendly and helpful – will certainly engage and amuse.
Maurice’s parents are the antithesis of what we expect parents to be, both visually and in their wish for their son to behave worse than he ever has.
The illustrations, in style surely referencing Sendak’s, but with a softer, humorous character, follow the action in black, on a background of muted reds and greens. They also contain information additional to the text, and they alone reveal (in bright white) the true identity of the Beast-terrifying Creature.
This is a splendidly carnivalesque picturebook, perfect for a Christmas (or any other time of year) present, to be enjoyed over and over again.