Before reading it, I made the mistake of believing that the “all-ages” tag on Monsters are Just Like Us meant it was just for children.
Material for all-ages usually denotes something that is suitable for and, more importantly, comprehensible to, anyone. (Though not everyone who reads it may enjoy it, of course.) Sounds simple enough. If this were an all-ages book in the traditional sense, then I could imagine that, by presenting these strange creatures as behaving incredibly similar to humans, the book is preaching tolerance of those who may look different, but aren’t that different on the inside. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and all. But Monsters isn’t traditionally for all ages and doesn’t contain the slightest bit of narrative or focus, so that stretch for a lesson kind of falls by the wayside.
The presentation is simple, almost exceedingly so. Ornately bordered pages take turns devoting their space to a single line on one, and an illustration depicting what the previous line described on the next. Think: “A is for Apple” on the left page with a picture of an apple on the right. Naturally, as the book is explaining how monsters are similar to the reader, it’s filled with a tad more complex associations (although, at least one picture has absolutely nothing to do with the line that accompanies it).
Certainly, you’ll find dedicated child-friendly material, such as a mother-monster buying sugary, toy-accompanying cereal (because, really, the cereal takes a backseat to the trinket) with her child, or another monster singing in the shower. Both experiences should be relatable to readers young and old. However, Monsters diverges from the all-ages meaning by providing more examples of events that are likely to fly over young readers’ heads than examples that they can relate to. Though not offensive in any sort of way, many of the situations presented are aimed squarely at teens and adults. The effectiveness of that approach is suspect. Without an adult to clarify it, what is a child supposed to take away from a monster ignoring an office fax machine’s technical difficulties? What is a child supposed to get out of an illustration of a monster hanging out at a bar with a pack of cigarettes and a glass of alcohol? These examples do absolutely nothing for them, and that’s a disservice. If the age-experience disparity was intended to have a parent explain to their child such behavior, then it’s at least promoting some strange bonding time. Indeed, there is something here for all-ages, but most of the book isn’t.
Of course, Monsters’ appeal is going to be largely dependent upon the ugly-cute monster designs. Illustrated with a mix of colored pencils and crosshatch work, the monster designs are reminiscent of mid-90s cartoon, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. Unfortunately, the book’s essence is a poor facsimile of that show, whose characters went about daily routines similar to a human’s, but with a monster-universe twist. For example, the younger monsters attended a school to learn how to hone their unique talents and scare effectively.
Monsters just gives you, well, monsters living lives exactly like humans do. One picture has a monster walking his dog. There’s no monster-universe parallel for dogs. Or fish. Or sharks. Or coffee. The examples go on. You can substitute a human into any of the illustrations, and nothing would seem at all strange. The closest the book comes to providing a monster spin are with the names of cereals (“Hobo Puffs”) and one picture of a monster trick-or-treating wearing a mask resembling a human. Rather than offering monster-universe equivalents to relatable everyday human objects, situations and experiences, you’re given human behavior copied-and-pasted with a monster swapped in. The potential for any unique charm is lost (unnecessarily namedropping Miley Cyrus attests to that).
Certainly, it could be amusing to observe monsters going about their normal lives in a similar way that humans do. However, Monsters are Just Like Us is the shallowest of parodies, depicting their everyday routine as not at all removed from ours. Without a tinge of anything remotely “monster” to the monsters’ behaviors, the book amounts to little more than a bored recollection of humdrum human habits.
TL;DR: Even for an all-ages book, without the slightest hint of a narrative or focus, the book just ends, and you’ll be left wondering what it is you just read and why you bothered. Skirting anything uniquely “monster,” it never reaches its potential.
A review copy of Monster Are Just Like Us was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.