Author and illustrator Mo Willems is superb at plotting small stories with big hearts, creating simple drawings that come to life in laugh-out-loud funny, yet soulful, picture books. He's done it before with Caldecott Honor-winning Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, among others. Now he does it again with Leonardo the Terrible Monster.
Willems has designed an oversized book, all the better to emphasize how small Leonardo is—he takes up just a bit of each page. This monster looks rather cuddly with tiny horns, baby blue eyes and a pink nose, hands and feet.
It comes as no surprise that little Leonardo is indeed a terrible monster. The poor thing can't scare anyone. After trying everything he can think of, he's utterly dejected. He's nothing like Tony, for instance, a beast who takes up a whole page and has many mouthfuls of teeth (with a footnote adding, "Not all teeth shown.").
One day, however, Leonardo has an idea of how to redeem himself: "to find the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world . . . and scare the tuna salad out of him!" Leonardo eventually uncovers a bespectacled boy in suspenders named Sam, a child who looks even more nervous than Leonardo, and who appears to have little, if any, tuna salad-courage. Surprisingly, Leonardo's plan actually works! He sneaks up on poor Sam and growls, roars and shows his teeth, and Sam immediately starts bawling.
In the end, Leonardo feels awful. So awful, in fact, that he decides to befriend Sam. The two share a sweet ending, although Leonardo can't stop himself from occasionally shouting "Boo!" at his new best friend, scaredy-cat Sam.
Not only is this story uncomplicated, there are few words in the text—Willems knows how to keep the plot moving with action-packed drawings and not much verbiage, a true gift for any storyteller. Winner of six Emmy Awards as a writer for "Sesame Street," Willems can deftly convey liveliness and movement on the page as well as the screen. Yet again, he has created the very essence of a new children's classic.
Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts. Copyright 2005 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Spring
Leonardo the monster can't scare anyone, so he targets Sam, "the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world." He makes Sam cry, but not, Sam says, because he's scared--he's having a very bad day. Leonardo decides: "instead of being a terrible monster, he would become a wonderful friend." Willems's theatrical story plays out on tall, uncluttered, muted-color pages. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2005 #5
Leonardo the monster can't scare anyone -- and it's true, he's more cute than terrifying. Dejected but not defeated, Leonardo decides to find "the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world" and frighten "the tuna salad out of him." Willems's story plays out like a theatrical performance on tall, uncluttered, muted-color pages. The ornamental, circus-poster-like typeface, in all caps, reinforces this idea, and Willems's sense of pacing helps convey mood. Leonardo targets bespectacled Sam, whom we meet cowering in the bottom corner of a gray and wordless double-page spread. The monster act makes Sam cry, but not, Sam says, because he's scared. "'Oh, yeah?' replied Leonardo. 'Then why are you crying?'" Sam's two-page tirade (worthy of Willems's pigeon) reveals he's having a very bad day. Leonardo has an epiphany: "instead of being a terrible monster, he would become a wonderful friend." In lesser hands, this would be a sentimental and saccharine outcome, but Willems pulls it off with panache. This production is just the ticket for preschool story hour. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2005 July #2
With a palette straight from the endpapers of Where the Wild Things Are, and postures not a little reminiscent of Max, Willems crafts a sweetly original morality play about a very unscary monster. Realizing that he doesn't possess the ideal monster attributes (1,642 teeth, enormous size or utter weirdness), Leonardo resolves to find "the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world . . . and scare the tuna salad out of him!" Exhaustive research yields Sam, who, in a double-page-spread torrent of words, explains why he's so miserable he cries when Leonardo tries to scare him: "MY MEAN BIG BROTHER STOLE MY ACTION FIGURE [etc.]!" The instant connection between the two is the very definition of sympathy, and Leonardo and Sam proceed to become fast friends. The highly predictable ending is made fresh by the superb control of pacing, just-zany-enough sense of humor and body language readers have come to expect from the creator of Pigeon and Knufflebunny. Leonardo and Sam appear mostly in the corners of vast blank spreads, the showbiz typeface (all caps) emphasizing the theatricality of it all. Bravo! (Picture book. 3-6) Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2005 November/December
Leonardo is a very unsuccessful monster in this gentle fable about friendship and kindness. He tries so hard, but he just doesn't have it in him to really scare people. Compared to the other monsters, like Tony with the 1,642 teeth, he is hopeless! He decides the only way to turn things around is to find "the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world" to scare. Enter Sam, a most bemused-looking youngster. Of course, things don't go as Leonardo plans, and Leonardo and Sam become fast friends. Mo Willems' cartoon illustrations say it all. Leonardo is a most lovable monster with his tiny little horns. A restrained palette of soft grays, blues, greens, and lavenders with deeper purples for emphasis highlights the text. The oversized "monster" book format will make for a good read-aloud. There is plenty of goofy kid-friendly humor ("scare the tuna salad out of him") with a sprinkling of more subtle chuckles for the adult reader, and Willems makes his usual brief appearance. While Leonardo learns it's better to be kind and have a friend than to be a scary monster, happily, he can't resist an occasional lapse into his former monster wannabe persona-no Little Lord Fauntleroy he. The author's little twist at the end provides a light touch and saves the tale from being overly didactic. Recommended. Quinby Frank, Freelance Reviewer, Bethesda, Maryland Â© 2005 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2005 June #4
Picture books commonly suggest that monsters, like certain bullies, are insecure and make marvelous playmates. Pint-size Leonardo, a case in point, is "a terrible monster" because "he couldn't scare anyone." As he roars, two people exchange patronizing smiles, and a circus-style, curly-serif typeface implies silly humor rather than danger. Like a Muppet, Leonardo is knee-high with olive-drab fur, a monkey's tail, a pink nose and tiny white horns. "He didn't have 1,642 teeth, like Tony," a six-mouthed purple guy (a footnote explains, "Not all teeth shown"), and "he wasn't big, like Eleanor," whose clawed feet (one sporting a pearl ankle bracelet) barely fit in the spread. Leonardo decides to pick on someone his own size, but when he successfully startles a moping boy, the child begins to wail about a broken toy in inch-tall italics that fill two pages. Leonardo decides that "instead of being a terrible monster, he would become a wonderful friend," and dispenses a consoling hug. Willems's (Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!) finale feels apt but syrupy; Leonardo's decision to be nice seems homiletic. Yet this is an appealing book, sketched in dark brown against grayish pastel backdrops, with evergreen lettering and highlighted key words. Leonardo accurately mimics a child's frustration at not being taken seriously; Willems suggests trying kindness to get attention. Ages 3-6. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2005 August
PreS-Gr 1-Leonardo is a terrible monster-"terrible" as in he can't scare anybody. He's not big, doesn't have hundreds of teeth, and isn't even weird. So one day he comes up with an idea: "He would find the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world-and scare the tuna salad out of him!" After much research, he chooses Sam, sneaks up on him, and "[gives] it all he [has]." When the boy cries, Leonardo is convinced that he is a success. But Sam proceeds to recite a litany of wrongs that actually brought on his tears: "My mean big brother stole my action figure right out of my hands-," and on and on. Leonardo makes a decision that is sure to surprise and delight readers. Willems's familiar cartoon drawings work hand in glove with the brief text to tell this perfectly paced story. It is printed on pastel grounds in large, fancy letters that change color for emphasis. Sam's list of woes marches across a spread. Leonardo, a small greenish-beige creature with tiny horns; blue eyes; and pink nose, hands, and feet, first appears in a lower right-hand corner looking dejected, but when he makes his momentous decision, his circular head fills two pages. His antics to produce a scare will have youngsters laughing, while the asterisk next to the number of monster Tony's teeth ("*note: not all teeth shown") will have grown-ups chuckling, too. A surefire hit.-Marianne Saccardi, Norwalk Community College, CT Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.