Katie Fitzgerald's Reviews > The Block Mess Monster

The Block Mess Monster by Betsy Howie
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Aug 06, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: format-picture-books

Most of the time, I prefer to write my own summaries of the books I review, but in this case, I am struggling. I feel like I'm missing something, because I haven't heard anyone else saying they were confused by this book, but I have a number of problems with it. Therefore, I'm going to let the book jacket speak for the book's content, and I will then attempt to explain why I had such a hard time sorting it out.

From the book jacket: "The Block Mess Monster is huge He's really scary. And he does not like it when Calpurnia's room has to be cleaned up. Even though Mom can't see the monster, the monster can see her, and Calpurnia has had to save her many times. This time, though, Mom might just have a few tricks up her sleeve."

I think my main issue with this book is that I suspected, from the beginning, that Calpurnia's fear of the monster was an invented ploy to convince her mother to clean up her mess for her. Calpurnia's spunky, Eloise-esque tone of voice gave me the idea that she was in complete control of everything, and that she wasn't afraid, she was just not interested in cleaning up after herself.

When I reached the ending, though, where essentially, her mother just picks up the mess for her, I had to rethink all my expectations. It seems, based on a second reading, that Calpurnia is truly afraid of the monster, and that her mother's solution, in the end, works because she finally buys into the belief that there is a monster and steps in to guide him out of the blocks herself.

My response to that, though, is so what? Calpurnia is an awesome, well-developed character. Her tone of voice is spot-on, and the illustrations of the block mess, her mother's frustrated face, even her quirky little outfits, are delightful. But this story has no arc! There is no emotional resolution because nothing happens to Calpurnia. She starts out afraid of a monster, remains afraid of the monster for the duration of the story, and then allows her mother to confront the monster on her behalf, at which point she praises her mom for having good ideas.

I just don't get it. I don't see this as a book for children. It's more like Boss Baby and Walk On! by Marla Frazee, which look like picture books but actually have greater adult appeal. (And I love those books, for the record. I just don't read them to kids.) Sure, parents can relate to the frustration of having a child who refuses to clean up, or who fears a monster they know doesn't exist, but I think children would be bored by this book, because the main character is so passive, and remains entirely unchanged from beginning to end.

I really want to like this book, and so much of it is so good, right up until the very end. Unfortunately, I have to say that the ending spoiled it for me, and that I probably wouldn't go out of my way to recommend the book because of that.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
August 5, 2011 – Finished Reading
August 6, 2011 – Shelved
August 6, 2011 – Shelved as: format-picture-books
September 17, 2016 – Shelved as: read-2011

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