3 out of 4 stars
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Young Tom loves to sleep. This has caused Tom some unfortunate problems, since going to school generally involves being awake. Feeling misunderstood at home and school, Tom sets out on his own and happens upon a series of adventures that he won’t soon forget. Carmela Tal Baron’s Down the Monster Hole, or Don’t be Afraid I am Only a Child is a magical children’s fantasy tale that chronicles the obstacles and opportunities Tom encounters in a day that ended much differently than it began.
Some free-spirited new friends introduce Tom to a secret kingdom of monsters that are cleverly disguised as a machine graveyard. A pile of broken bicycles become giant, majestic insects; some old typewriters turn into big birds with bright, yellow feathers; big, old, rusty cranes are actually friendly, talking giraffes; and you won’t believe what happens when Tom encounters Jack the shark! Young readers will learn the all-important Membership Rules in the Kingdom of Monsters and experience the affirming Rite of Blessings. (I am matching my capitalization to the author’s.) Will Tom survive the Temple of Puzzles and Puzzlement? Will he be the one to find the Dragon King and become the Utmost Monstrous Monster? You will enjoy finding out.
Carmela Tal Baron’s magical imagery, positive messages, and lyrical narrative engaged me throughout the book. She weaves an action-packed series of adventures that never really slow down and always deliver an important growth opportunity for the young protagonist. Tom’s experiences enable him to overcome the obstacles that were making his life miserable. He learns that there are many ways to look and listen, that everyone has hidden gifts that make them wonderfully unique, that love knows no bounds of appearance, and my favorite: that things are hardly ever what they seem. These and other lessons make this fantasy story a delightful choice for kids of all ages. At 130 pages, this book can be easily read by most middle-school-aged kids. Younger kids may need some words explained but will enjoy having the book read to them.
This talented author is also a visual artist and created the book’s illustrations. Most of them are hand-drawn, playful, colorful, and likely will be fun and interesting to kids. These illustrations are one of my favorite elements of the book. The second type of illustration is more graphic and geometric in style. I don’t think these will appeal to kids as much. The first style better matches the reader’s age range and the book’s themes. Streamlining the style of the drawings would benefit the book.
There are a couple of additional small problems that prevent a perfect rating for this book. The text moves from narrative prose and dialogue to poetry, and back, with relative ease. The poetic sections, however, are inconsistent at times, haphazardly combining rhyming lines with non-rhyming lines. This might trip up some younger readers. The book does contain some editing errors: mostly comma and punctuation errors, and a misplaced modifier. The errors did not affect my enjoyment of the book.
Down the Monster Hole earns 3 out of 4 stars for its continuous action, positive messages, and lyrical language. This is a children’s fantasy adventure that parents and kids will both enjoy. You can be sure, on days when I don’t want to wake up, I will be searching my dreams for Seven the flower-maiden and the seven rays of the sun.
Down the Monster Hole
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