MONTY AND THE MONSTER
Written by Rhonda Smiley
Illustrated by Kev Hopgood
Rhonda Smiley 7/14/2019
232 Pages Age 8—12
. .DEBUT MG
Genre: Children’s Picture Book, Fiction
Themes: Monsters, Acceptance, One-Parent, Odd Science
All he wanted to do was make a friend. From Scratch. But when twelve-year-old Monty Hyde accidentally creates a stinky, hairy eight-foot-tall monster that might be snacking on the locals, he knows he needs to undo his experiment. Problem is, it’s the best friend he’s ever had. (from back cover)
That’s Kyle, my older brother, trying to shove me out of the way with the door of the U-Haul so he can get out. Normally, I’d fight back with some name-calling of my own, but I’m paralyzed with disgust as I stand before the ugliest house I’ve ever seen.”
Why I like Monty and the Monster
Monty is the new kid (AGAIN!) and the kid without any friends (AGAIN!). The house is old, huge, and a wreck. Monty chooses to make the large attic his bedroom, way up above the third floor, away from Kyle and dad. He finds a trapdoor. A rope ladder takes him to a maze of passageways that finishes in a dead end. But wait! When Monty’s foot pushes through the floor; the floor turns out to be a gate. The gate, with enough weight upon it, opens into a staircase. All of this stops at a cellar below the basement. A secret cellar, no one ever mentioned. Two wooden doors open to the outside, like this was originally a storm cellar.
Inside are stacks of boxes, steamer trunks, and other assorted “stuff.” There are also two metal lab tables, assorted small appliances of the scientific type, and three huge wooden crates with faded words written on them:
Finally, Monty finds an old leather notebook, faded from wear, and the words “Human Replication and Reanimation.” After much thought—about maybe fifteen seconds—Marty, a smart kid, knew what had to do: “I’m going to make a friend. From scratch.”
Meet Houdini. Houdini is tall (about eight feet tall), has two legs with two feet and ten toes; two arms with two hands and ten fingers and an exceptionally lithe monster body. His body is also excessively hairy and smelly; so smelly, the stink left on Monty’s clothes makes people think Monty’s last bath was last year. Houdini has an Olympic-sized stomach. Monty tries to keep him fed, fearing Houdini will, or has, eaten people. Reports of missing people increase dramatically since Houdini’s “birth.” Houdini has a few special talents, each of which helps keep him out of sight, until . . .
Ripper, Dr. Petrovic’s grandson, sees Houdini, who saw Ripper before that. When Houdini picks him up, threatening to eat him, Ripper finally feels fear, just like those he has bullies feel it.. Monty scolds Houdini who drops Ripper. The one-wonky-eyed Dr. Petrovic (Robert Hyde’s boss), wants Houdini, Wrongly claiming the monster is legally his. (Legally, it belongs to the university.) What ensues is a fight for Houdini, Monty’s best, and often only, friend.
Monty and Kyle’s mother died from cancer a year or two ago and Monty is stuck in the grieving process. He feels miserable, misunderstood, and mistreated, all of which is evident by his actions and his words. Author Rhonda Smiley understands the minds and mouths of middle graders. Monty is a well-developed, spot on tween character with vulnerabilities common to boys his age. His arguments with Dad are often volatile and heart wrenching, with neither giving an inch to the other. Monty sees dad working all the time as a way to avoid home and blames him for mom’s death.
Dad and Kyle, though not realizing, make Monty feel misunderstood and out of place. Houdini gives Monty the unconditional, loving friend he needs. Houdini enjoys what Monty enjoys—skateboarding and magic in particular. Houdini excels at everything he does (not because he is eight feet tall or a monster). Ms. Smiley gives us not one character we can relate to, but two: Monty and Houdini. In that mix is Watson, a cute dog Monty received from his mother (to help him adjust when she is gone). At first, Watson is not sure of a creature that can disappear or reappear as quickly as Houdini can. Houdini only sees Watson as food. Then something happens, which I won’t spoil.
Monty and the Monster is author Rhonda Smiley’s first middle grade novel and should not be her last. She has complete control of her plots and the story flows smoothly from beginning to end. I found myself laughing and shaking my head (in salute), and then feeling incredibly sad. As I read, my emotional reactions were in Ms. Smiley’s control.
There is one thing missing in Monty and the Monster: A word list. Monty loves to skateboard and is good enough to impress the un-impressionable in his neighborhood. As narrator, Monty uses many terms related to skateboarding that some (hopefully many or I am getting old) may not understand. For example, the terms “pop an ollie,” “grabs and stalls,” and the easy as pike “Caballeria kickflip”
Grammar and punctuation, most often are problems in self-published books. Ms. Smiley shines. She knows English, punctuation, dialogue, grammar, use of commas, and so on—or hired a fantastic editor. Even with an editor, shining is probably thanks to several rewrites, and I give her credit for digging in and rewriting until the manuscript shined.
Middle grade readers will enjoy Monty and the Monster. Monty’s narrative voice will speak to them on their level. Monty is a relatable character and very likable. Houdini can be labeled the comedian, especially when a magician or when trying to get Monty, his parent, to let him do something he should not do. I would hand Monty and the Monster to an advanced younger reader, but he or she will need a good dictionary—and a skateboarding terms book. There is nothing too old or too gross to keep them from the story. Given time to absorb, reluctant readers might be able to also enjoy Houdini, Watson, and Monty.
Monty and the Monster is more comedy than tragedy.
I love the scenes were Houdini, Watson, and Monty are running for their lives. Houdini picks up Watson and carries him, knowing his little legs will not turn fast enough. Through the experience, each begins viewing the other as a friend, not a bad creature or food. The scene is very sweet—and a little hectic, yet a chase scene should do that.
I also love “newborn” Houdini. He pouts, mimics, and tries hard to get his way. Monty is actually a good “parent,” though he can a terrible son moments later or just before. He learns nothing about parents or adults while in the role of Houdini’s dad. Houdini learns many words displaying them mostly in “Houdini-sign” Quite clever, that boy.
Illustrations Rendered in black and white, looks like charcoal. All are of Monty, in various emotional displays in each chapter heading.
Available at Amazon
MONTY AND THE MONSTER. Text Copyright © 2019 by Rhonda Smiley. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Kev Hopgood. Published by Rhonda Smiley, Glendale, CA.
Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
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