Leonardo the Terrible Monster

By Mo Willems
Hyperion Books for Children, 2005

I gave a talk last month to the Society of Professional Communicators in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was my first experience addressing an audience as a writer of children’s books, and I was quite nervous about it. I over-prepared, which is to say I agonized for weeks over what to say and how to say it. Two days before the event I practiced my talk several times: first to my seven-year-old son (who was home sick from school … poor, poor boy!), and then to my good friend Dawn, and then, for lack of other handy victims, to the bedroom mirror. The day before the event I was feeling quite comfortable. I was ready. And because there were still twelve hours before the talk, my mind began to wander. It occurred to me as I dropped off to sleep that night that my opening was a little weak. Perhaps I could start my presentation differently? Perhaps there was a way to draw my audience in more fully from the start? By morning I was incorporating a whole new beginning into my presentation. (Alas, this is my very strange modus operandi. I over-prepare for presentations because I cannot bear last-minute tension and frenzy. And when I am prepared I create last-minute tension and frenzy anyway. It is crazy.)

Anyway, the main point of my presentation was that children’s books have a lot to offer adults. My big last-minute idea was to start the talk with a children’s book. I wanted to draw this roomful of adults into my world, to get them excited about books for children. And so I read them one of my favorite new picture books: LEONARDO THE TERRIBLE MONSTER, by Mo Willems.

Like all Mr Willems’ picture books, LEONARDO THE TERRIBLE MONSTER grabs the reader from the title page. Leonardo the terrible monster? Why is Leonardo so terrible? Is he terrible BAD, as in he is a scary, scary monster? Or is he terrible GOOD, as in he is terrible at being scary and so is actually good? And where did he get that name, anyway? As I had hoped they would be, my audience was enthralled. They stayed with me page-to-page, laughed in the appropriate places, and since displaying the art spread-by-spread gave me ample time to assess the audience, I could see they were not fidgety or bored. When I let loose the final “BOO!”, that room full of professional communicators actually cheered.

It was a dream opening and worth all the tension and frenzy. (Thank you, Mr. Willems!) My presentation was well-received and, more importantly, I am more convinced than ever that children’s books really do have a lot to offer adults. So, find yourself a copy of LEONARDO THE TERRIBLE MONSTER and read it to the children in your life. Heck, pick it up and read it to the adults in your office. It’s a great book.