Picture Book Snob
Why monsters make the best friends
Lionel the Lonely Monster by Fred Blunt
Lionel is a monster who longs for a companion, but unfortunately any potential pals are scared of him on sight. One day, Lionel's loneliness feels particularly overwhelming. As he sits in the park in tears, Lionel meets a little dog called Milo who comforts him.
Lionel and Milo spend a glorious day together but when Lionel realises Milo is lost, he is faced with a difficult decision. Should Lionel ignore the "missing" posters and his conscious? Or will Lionel return his first and only friend to their owner and risk losing them forever?
Lionel the Lonely Monster is a beautiful story with valuable life lessons at its core. It teaches us that appearances can be deceiving and that we shoudn't judge others based on how they look. Lionel is gentle and kind, but because he looks like a monster, he is treated like one.
This story demonstrates how important it is to consider the feelings of others. Lionel sacrifices his own happiness for that of Milo and his owner. Lionel's unselfish act does not go unrewarded and his compassion is what ultimately puts an ends to his isolation and misery.
Lionel the Lonely Monster also stresses that it's OK to feel sad and that there's nothing wrong with showing our emotions. Lionel would not have met Milo if he hadn't been crying under a tree. Lionel goes from being unable to give away free hugs to being warmly embraced, because he is unafraid of addressing and articulating his own feelings, and is sensitive to the suffering of others.
I love the circular narrative and how the book begins with a desire to be hugged and concludes with this wish being fulfilled. This is a very basic aspiration and something that most of us take for granted. Lionel's placard offering free hugs is ignored by humans at the start of the story, but by the end of the book his tender heart has become its own billboard.
The illustrations are AMAZING! The colour palette with its blue grass, pink skies, purple tree trunks and yellow leaves is attractive and interesting with a softness that suits the story's tone. The images are full of life and remarkably expressive - one of my favourite things about this story is the wide range of emotions communicated by Lionel.
We never hear Lionel speak but we always know what he is feeling, from sorrow to surprise, disappointment to delight. The polite way Lionel ushers Milo into the playground, opening the gate for him, leaves us in no doubt of his good nature. Later on, cloud formations show us what is on Milo's mind.
Every time Lionel encounters humans, we see terrified children and oblivious adults. As with many of the best picture books (including classic monster tale Not Now Bernard! by David McKee), the reader gets the impression of being in on a secret, and knowing more than the grown ups.
The details in the background of the illustrations which show a variety of little humans reacting to Lionel are hilarious. In one scene, a little girl's ice-cream slips off its cone as she points in alarm. The playground quickly empties out as Lionel and Milo enter.
Watching a monster and dog enjoy a slide and seesaw together and seeing Lionel push Milo on a swing is highly amusing and extremely moving. Lionel's gleeful face when playing with Milo, and again later with Lucy, Milo's owner, is as funny as it is heartening. Lionel playing with dolls is particularly comical and I don't think a more lovable monster exists in literature!
Lionel the Lonely Monster is my first book by Fred Blunt but I will definitely be getting hold of more. Santa Claus Vs The Easter Bunny looks fantastic. We were in stitches recently during a live story time with Mama G a couple of weeks ago who read Gnome and it's on my wishlist too. See more books by this talented and award-winning author, illustrator and animator here.
Myself, the 3.5-year-old and the 5.5-year-old thoroughly enjoyed this and we are all mad about Lionel. This is a great text for starting conversations about empathy and it's ideal for encouraging children to examine their own prejudice, explore their emotions and express themselves. An incredibly uplifting story with gorgeous illustrations and the loveliest, cuddliest monster - I really hope there's a sequel!
Here's a fascinating blog post from author and illustrator Fred Blunt's website which takes us behind the scenes of this book's creation...
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