At the end of last year I was asked to name the books I was most looking forward to seeing out in the wide world in 2014 and Mrs. Mo’s Monster by Paul Beavis was one of the two I chose.
In it, Beavis mixes colour, perspective and page turns into magic, creating a highly humorous tale about what it takes to tame a monster. It’s got humour and a wild edge guaranteed to get kids hooked. It’s got a moral subtext to make adults both nod in wry delight and feel reassured; even the most unruly of creatures can be calmed. Indeed, they can even turn out to be quite lovable (I wouldn’t be surprised if I returned to this book when my kids become teenagers).
Mrs. Mo is preparing for a special event, but she keeps being interrupted by a manic monster who is determined to cause chaos. After all that’s what monsters DO, isn’t it?
Mrs. Mo tries to find ways to bring the Monster out of himself. She attempts time and again to find the hook which will grab the monster’s attention and help him become absorbed in an activity other than destruction. This reminded me of work with some of the more challenging kids at school; the constant search for a new angle, a new idea that might be the one to bring down the walls and start a new sort of relationship.
Monster can’t imagine himself doing most of the activities Mrs. Mo suggests. But when he sees Mrs. Mo stirring cake mix, Monster cannot resist giving it a go. A little bit of mixing later and Monster has been able to actually help patient Mrs Mo complete her special preparations to the delight (and relief!) of the whole Mo household. But the story then goes one twist further with the arrival of the Mo children. What will Monster make of them?
Page turns in picture books can be like the game peekaboo, with a wonderful, deliciously anticipated reveal. They can inject a huge shot of drama. They can bring pace and awe. Sometimes turning a page can be like rounding a corner and having your breath taken away by the most astonishing view, and there are several page turns like this in Mrs. Mo’s Monster. Beavis has also used perspective in a fascinating and quite unusual way; many of the rooms in the Mo household are viewed from unexpected angles. The illustrations – like the story itself – come at you from unexpected directions, creating unusual and interesting spaces.
It’s hard to believe that this is Beavis’ debut as a children’s book author and illustrator. He’s created a marvellously lovable rogue character, told a story with emotional and psychological depth but with all the lightness of touch and humour one could hope for, and illustrated it all in a truly eye-opening manner. I cannot wait to see what he does next.
Given the magical power of cake baking witnessed in Mrs. Mo’s Monster of course we had to follow suite.
Normally we use a food processor to beat the cake mixture, but this time I swapped butter for margarine and got M to stir the ingredients together.
As we ate our cake we got to talking about stirring, and how stirring can feel different depending on what you are stirring. So before I knew it we were using the book as a stepping stone to explore viscosity. I got jar and tins of different liquids which the girls stirred and then put in order from most viscous to least viscous (based on how it felt whilst stirring).
We then had a discussion about whether there was another way to test the viscosity of the liquids. A very accurate way to gauge thickness is to actually put the liquid in your mouth, and with our choice of liquids we could have done this, but my children refused point blank. They may have an incredibly varied and rich book diet, but when it comes to food they are extremely conservative.
So we had to come up with a different approach and this led us to thinking about what happens when you spill different liquids: how quickly does the liquid flow? With the idea of relating speed of flow to viscosity in mind we set up a slope to pour our liquids down. We started with the same volume of each liquid and tipped it down the slope. We measured how far the liquid spread down the slope in the space of 10 seconds.; the liquid which flowed the shortest distance was the most viscous according to our hypothesis.
We compared the results from our two tests (stirring and flowing), and then tried to find out the official data on the viscosity of the liquids in question to see if our results matched more formal research results (eg here). By looking at the behaviour of porridge in our tests we concluded that temperature effects viscosity, but grossed out by the wet trails we’d already made the girls decided that investigating that relationship would have to wait for another day (though here’s an child friendly online simulation of a viscosity experiment which does allow you to explore how temperature effects viscosity).
Whilst baking and eating and stirring and gloop-sliding we listened to:
Other activities which could tie in with reading Mrs. Mo’s Monster include:
Who’s the most exciting debut illustrator you’ve come across recently? What are you going to stir up today?