Monsters and Creatures In Children’s Literature

Zed and the Monsters book cover

Natalie Tran is one of Australia’s best comedians and I enjoy her increasingly sporadic uploads to Community Channel on YouTube.

Recently Natalie has been babysitting, and wonders what to do when the kid tells her there’s a monster in their bedroom.

a. Do you go along with it?

b. Do you tell them it’s just their imagination?

I like the idea of going in with a cricket bat and coming out with a bunch of clothes in a black bin liner, announcing the job done, but let’s assume this is a serious question. What is the best thing to do?

Most picture book writers are on ‘a’ side of the fence, not only going along with the idea of monsters, but maybe even introducing the very concept of monsters to children in the first place. I mean, who thinks of this stuff?

Put Your Lights On

And a visit to Wikipedia has just informed me that the lalala stuff at the end is actually “La ilaha illa Allah”,  which means “there is no god but Allah” in Arabic. Oooh. Secret religious messages.

Making monsters with the six-year-old with Artrage 4

A Field Guide to the Eccentric Creatures of Classic Children’s Literature from Huffington Post

The Role Of Children’s Stories In Managing Childhood Fears And Promoting Empowerment, a paper by M.A. Taylor

The Greatest Monsters In Children’s Literature according to Flavorwire

Picture Books With Monsters, a Goodreads list

Monsters Are Living, Breathing Metaphors

Must Monsters Always Be Male? at The Guardian

There are a lot of picture books with the message for preschoolers: Don’t be scared of the dark. The monsters you imagine are benign. We’ll then read a book about a terrible monster under the bed who turns out to be an adorable fluffy creature who befriends the child protagonist.

Here’s what I’d like to know: Do all children imagine monsters? Or is the idea of a monster introduced by the very media designed to assuage their fears? If we were to bring up a child sans media, sans Grimm, sans terror, would that child still conjure up the worst?

I doubt anyone has managed that experiment, but I do know that for our part, the resident toddler didn’t start being afraid of the dark until she started watching more sophisticated television and listening with some comprehension to picture books.


Zdenek Burian (1905 – 1981)
Illustration for Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” 1937
sea monsters by Tove Jansson
Robert Gibbings (1889-1958) St Brendan and the sea monsters Used as illustration to Beasts and Saints by Helen Waddell. Wood-engraving. Published London, 1934
Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent, Bill Peet, 1975
N. C. Wyeth, 1922
Édouard Riou’s 1870 Devilfish for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Alphonse de Neuville, engraved by Henri-Theophile Hildibrand
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Alphonse de Neuville, engraved by Henri-Theophile Hildibrand octopus
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Alphonse de Neuville, engraved by Henri-Theophile Hildibrand jellyfish
The fairy gives Askeladden the idea to tame the beast in the water (Rjukanfossen) 1908 Theodor Kittelsen
Sea Monster 1887 Theodor Kittelsen
Paul Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883)
The Mermaid HC Andersen. Illustration by Nadezhda Ilarionova
Eddie Jones (1935 – 1999) 1980 illustration for The Alien World by Steven Eisler
Louis Figuier
R. André

Goodreads List of Picture Books About Monsters. (Can you guess the book at number one spot?)

Why Were There So Many Giant Insects In The 1950s? from io9

Mythical Beasts and Modern Monsters from Brainpickings

The Best Monster Movie Posters, Ever from IndieWire

Utagawa Shigekiyo A New Collection Of Monsters 1860
Edward Goreys mordant masterpiece The Wuggly Ump charts the fate of three wholesome children whose happy days weaving chains of flowers are cut short when the mysterious Wuggly Ump hurtles from its den in search of tasty tots.

Mythological Monsters (2002)

Meet the living, fire-breathing mythical creatures of Greek legend. Sara Fanelli’s distinctive art style combined with the unusual design of the text adds new dimensions to the traditional picture-book experience.

ONCE IN A cave, lived a horrible ugly monster. Perhaps the most horrible and ugly monster in the world. . . .

So ugly is the monster that he can turn a blue sky to snow and evaporate a pond just by dipping his toe in it. No living thing can stand to be in his presence. But the monster is not ugly on the inside; he’s just lonely. So he decides to build some friends out of stone, but even stones can’t stand the full force of the monster’s smile, and they all shatter . . . except for one.

Ed Powers, M for Monster- A monster joke book, 1965
cover illustrating an article on the special effects technology in the silent version of Conan Doyle’s THE LOST WORLD 1925


Talk for Writing Home-school Booklet: Marvellous Monsters by Maria Richards