Frank was a Monster who wanted to Dance

written and illustrated by Keith Graves

Published by Chronicle Books

32 pages, 1999

Buy it online





A Charming Monster

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


The thing that I look for almost more than anything else in a book for young children is something almost indefinable. It's also somewhat subjective: charm. Of course, what you and I read as charm might be two very different things. You might, for instance, be less than charmed by the eyeball that makes up the "O" in "Monster" in the title on the cover of Frank was a Monster who wanted to Dance. And while, to be perfectly honest, I'm not a huge fan of raw eyeballs, this particular stroke did nothing to diminish the book's charm for me. Nor would it, I suspect, for many of this book's readers.

Created for very young readers (and those who read to them) Frank 's rhymes are simple and fun, with more value to the engaging lilt, perhaps, than the actual story.

Frank was a monster who wanted to dance.

So he put on his hat and his shoes made in France.

And opened a jar and put ants in his pants.

This is, of course, not high literature but sometimes kids just want to have fun, too. The nature of the fun may not be wholly approved by all parents. Though I risk adding a spoiler, Frank dances so hard his brains and one eye fall out and his head ultimately falls off, though neither of these deter him from dancing. It's not a frightening journey, by any means. But it's not particularly enriching. The illustrations, however, are another matter altogether.

Author and illustrator Keith Graves' paintings are rich and fresh and entirely enjoyable. Graves' work in Frank is several cuts above anything I've seen recently in children's books. There is a depth and completeness in these illustrations that make just looking through Frank an enjoyable experience. Graves renders Frank the monster as a hilarious compilation of parts. He is a monster that Frankenstein might have created if he'd had a sense of humor and some leftover bits. And if one looks closely at the drawings -- and one must -- you notice that Frank seems to own a similarly constructed cat who turns up in some of the illustrations. Even the car he drives to get to the dancing venue looks like a humorous Frankenstein construction, complete with poorly-sewed joins and headlights that are red vein-rimmed eyes.

The result of all of this careful and quite brilliant illustrative work is a book that is more of a pleasure to ponder carefully than to actually read. The result might be a warmly welcomed by pre-readers to whom words on the page are still a bit of a mystery but who will enjoy and understand the simple yet clever rhymes. | October 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of the Madeline Carter novels: Mad Money, The Next Ex and Calculated Loss.