We're Going to Find the Monster! by Malorie Blackman and Dapo Adeola

'Over the shimmering ocean, up the huge, high mountain, through the deep, dark jungle... We're going to find the monster!'

When revered author Malorie Blackman tweeted that her 20-year-old picture book Marty Monster (1999) had been completely revamped, I wasn't sure what to expect. How could such a wonderful story about a brother and sister's make-believe quest to find a rather familiar 'monster', and centring a Black family, be made any better? 

But she was so right. Due out next month, the cannily retitled We're Going to Find the Monster! is a stunning, well-judged reimagining of a much-loved favourite. Blackman's meaningful re-writes coupled with new, lively illustrations from Dapo Adeola, have brought this enjoyable tale bang up to date for children in Reception and Year 1. 

So what's changed? Although the theme, home-based setting and plot are broadly the same, additions to the rich descriptions, a memorable, cumulative refrain and deeper characterisation have significantly enhanced the story. Minor logistical issues have also been ironed out. For example, siblings Charlie and Eddie undertake their adventure in the morning rather than at dinnertime, so it's more plausible for the monster to be asleep. And, in a refreshing role swap it's Dad who prepares breakfast while Mum, aka 'foamy fiend', replaces him in the bubbly bubble lake (bath).

The omission of the monster's real name throughout is also clever, instantly providing intrigue for readers as they venture with Charlie and Eddie from room to room, trying to work out who or what the monster might be. 

In conjunction with Adeola's naturally inclusive approach, drawing lovable characters that challenge expected norms (for example, hero Charlie has the skin condition vitiligo which is rarely represented in children's books), Blackman's textual revisions change our opinion of the monster. In the original book, older brother Marty seems lazy, messy and lacking in table manners — his redeeming features are not made explicit. In the new ending, Marcus is revealed as a vivacious, fun-loving pre-teen who adores, and is adored by, his family, an important update when representing Black boys. I also love how his cute monster-style onesie reinforces his warm, cuddly nature, causing readers to speculate whether it was this item of clothing that sparked the children's imaginary play. You get the distinct feeling that all three siblings knowingly engage in this delightful game, time and time again.

In the original book, Kim Harley's gorgeous, realist watercolours are vertically framed to differentiate fantasy from reality in the same double-page spread. Adeola tantalisingly blurs the lines between both worlds, so that readers need to work a little harder to look for picture cues to unravel what's happening in each vividly detailed scene. In the horizontal frames near the end, where reality is revealed, he leaves it up to readers to imagine where upstairs the jungle could be: a deep-pile green rug on the landing, a green carpet in the study area or even a first-floor roof-terrace garden? Overall, text and images work together magnificently, encouraging children to practise sequencing story events along with prediction, deduction and inference skills.

I really love the addition of a map that Eddie uses to plot their route to the monster's lair. It serves as a great story-recapping device while also being a helpful prompt for drawing and writing. Following word-level work to generate interesting adjectives, children could draw or build their own adventure maps based on the story, writing new phrases (alliterative or not) to describe how intrepid adventurers Charlie and Eddie would navigate each obstacle to reach the monster, e,g. through the luscious, green jungle, into the vast, blue ocean, up the gigantic, grey mountain, etc. Later, this writing could be extended into sentences for their own versions of the story. Shared reading of the book may also lead to discussions about metaphors for children who are interested in thinking more deeply about the text. 

Celebrating the everyday life of a contemporary Black family and the awesomeness of children's imaginations, this layered, funny, highly relatable story has been deservedly revived by an epic creative team. If you're looking for a quality substitute to Michael Rosen's We're Going on a Bear Hunt, this is most definitely it! 

We're Going to Find the Monster by Malorie Blackman and Dapo Adeola is out on 2 September 2021. Available now for pre-order at Bookshop.

Check out my Black Children's Books directory for suggested suitability of all the books I review. All the books that I read are also checked against my Jericho Benchmark.

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