The theme of being yourself is familiar. Many books, movies, and plays are devoted to this idea. When it’s done well, we all sit up a little straighter, laugh more confidently, and dream about all the things we’d like to do to be true to who we are. Children need to hear this message often so another book, one that tells the story in a different way, is welcome.
Maurice the Unbeastly is a delight for the eyes, great fun to read out loud, and quirky enough to hold the attention of even the most beastly among the children you know.
The color palette, in tones of rust, green, and black is particularly pleasing. Karl James Mountford finds ways to make it both soothing and alarming, depending on the strength and intensity of the colors. The title page says “The artwork for this book was created using traditional and digital mixed media and the occasional roar of an untamed artist.” And there you have it … the book is quite tongue-in-cheek.
Maurice himself is drawn as a round-faced, smiling, and gentle beast. He has sharp angles at times, but even when he tries, “He growled and scowled. He snarled and howled,” Maurice isn’t your usual monster.
Amy Dixon sets up our expectations well from the very beginning, “Maurice was not like the other Beasts. His voice was as sweet and refreshing as dandelion lemonade on a hot day. He preferred his snacks green and organic. And he was ridiculously photogenic.”
His parents are unhappy with Maurice because he doesn’t conform so they send him to the Abominable Academy for Brutish Beasts where he disappoints his teachers again and again. “Maurice’s roar is dreadfully melodious and delightful to the ear.”
When a terrible threat confronts the Academy it is Maurice who knows just what to do with the terrifying creature, turning the tide for his success in school. Not only is Maurice unchanged, but he changes the beings and expectations around him. And isn’t that the happiest of outcomes?
Kudos to the team who created this book. It will engage children in storytime and younger classrooms as well as at home where I suspect it will be read over and over.
Maurice the Unbeastly
written by Amy Dixon
illustrated by Karl James Mountford
published by Sterling Children’s Books, 2017