June 1, 2001
The use of Illustration and Characterization in There’s A Monster Under My Bed.
Children are drawn to picture books that allow them to feel some sort of elementary emotion such as fear or happiness. Of course all children are different and the types of books they will enjoy depends mostly on their age and their stage of cognitive development, but common to all children is the need for both visual and auditory stimulation. In There’s A Monster Under My Bed, James Howe and David Rose combine artistic and visual elements with the characterization of characters to create a captivating yet simple story for young readers. The use of colour and clear wording by the author make this picture book exciting for the child reader.
The first picture of the story is drawn with straight lines that reassure the child that everything is in its place to promote the feeling of safety; children would assume that everything is how it should be at first glance. The use of lighter colours here contrast with the remaining pages of the story therefore giving the child the sense of impending doom as the story continues. The only shadows used on the first page are around Simon’s bed allowing the child to imagine what lies there. Howe uses simple sentences here to emphasize the idea of fright. The fact that he uses one word sentences such as “Listen.”(1), helps the child understand the intensity of fear the character is feeling. The boy in the story is lying in the middle of his bed on the first page and his face is coated with terror. A child’s eyes would be drawn to the boy quickly because he is wearing a bright yellow shirt that contrasts with the surrounding room.
As the story moves on, the legs on the bed start to bend to fit the continually growing amount of monsters under his bed. Rose uses darker colours around the bed and in the corners of the walls to imprint the element of dread on the child reader. The fact that the words do not interfere with the illustration allows the child to fully enjoy the pictures giving them creative space to develop their own feelings towards the story. The expression on the boys face is particularly important since many of the children who enjoy this story are not actually reading it themselves.
The fact that Simon is drawn from different angles (face front, side view, etc.) gives the child reader a more realistic view of the boy by giving us the idea that he has different sides to him. This design lends to the overall feeling of fright by showing him from different angles and at different distances from the reader; we can assume he is very scared because he is gripping the covers and he does not move very much. The monsters are drawn in different colours and none are really frightening or disgusting. This detail gives the story the basic element of fear from munching monsters, but at the same time the child is not very scared of them. Rose gives the monsters a cute, cuddly texture as opposed to the generic green, scaly stereotype, which might very well scare the child out of sleeping!
The climax comes in the middle of the book when the story words are placed below the picture of the boy and the monsters under his bed. This page is important because the way it is setup tells us that this is the climax; here it is important for the reader to focus on the picture and the story separately because each element evokes a different emotion. From here the story will begin to shift its focus from imagining monsters under the bed to finding out what is truly hiding there. The next page is a close up of Simon (the boy) realizing that his “mom”(20) left him a flashlight “Just in case”(20). He jumps up and checks out what is under his bed. As it turns out, it is his little brother; there was nothing to be afraid of after all! Children readers would relate to this even if they do not have a sibling that would be perched under their bed because even as a single child they would have relationships with other children either through family or their community. This is a big sigh of relief after all the tension and fear that was built up to this point. The colours used now are brighter; Simon’s pajamas are yellow and Alex’s are red, and the bedcover is more dominant now with its louder pink and blue stripes. The conversation Howe brings into these remaining pages is simple, for example, the conversation between the two brothers, Alex and Simon. Children will understand the elementary phrases used because that is how they talk right now at their stage of development, simple and straight to the point.
In any picture book the connection between characterization and illustration is very important because the author’s main audience is children, who, in turn, learn not only by what they hear, but also by what they see. Visual and auditory stimulation become partners at this age and will continue to be used to teach children of all ages different lessons.