book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

Moin and the Monster

Anushka Ravishankar and Anitha Balachandran (ill.)

Ravishankar, Anushka; Anitha Balachandran (ill.);

Moin and the Monster

Puffin books (Penguin), 2006, 103 pages

ISBN 0143335154, 9780143335153

topics: |  fiction | children | young-adult | picture-book | india | english

Book Review

Surely one of the most successful picture-book tales from India, in any Indian language.

Moin is a lovable kid, who is visited by a friendly monster. It turns out the monster can be get a body only if Moin will draw it for him. The world of Monsters, it turns out, is governed by a myriad rules. This particular monster also has a penchant for singing in a high-pitched shriek.

Adventures multiply when monster goes to school with Moin. Together with two trusted friends, he manages to keep monster a secret from the world of the grown-ups. Successive episodes involve adventures at home, with friends, and at school where the monster drawing is selected for a prize and is seen by the principal and others.

1. Moin gets a monster

	   One night, in the dim darkness of his room, Moin heard
	something shuffling and sniffling under his bed.
	   "Who's that?" he squeaked.
	   "A bonster," said a shrieky kind of voice.
	   Moin flashed his torchlight all over the room.  Nothing.
	   "Abonster, where are you?" he asked in a wobbly whisper.
	   "A monster, stupid, not a bonster!"
	   "A m-m-monster? Where are you?" asked Moin.
	   "Udder the bed, obviously.  Widd a very dusty old suitcase add a pair of
	blud socks which are horrible add sbelly.  That's why I'b holding by dose."

Thus begins the adventures of Moin with the monster. The monster, who remains name-less, turns out to have a lot of rules, which they have to live by. Monster Rule 42: When a monster is sent to the human world, it has to hide under the bed. But monsters are problematic. For one, you can't see them.
p.4-7: Moin flashed the light under the bed. "But I can't see you." "That's another monster rule. You can only see me if you draw me." Moin was confused. "But I can only draw you if I can see you," he said. "I can describe myself, can't I? Then you can draw me." If you disobey the rule you'll ... you'll ... you'll turn into a ... a ... suitcase" Moin didn't want to turn into a suitcase. So he switched on the light, got out his crayons and a piece of paper and waited for the monster to describe itself. "You can't draw me on that tiny bit of paper!" the monster told him. "I'll be as big as you draw me, and I don't want to be the size of your foot." ... "Okay! Okay!" said Moin. He took the calender off the wall, selected a month that had passed, tore off the sheet and turned it around. "There. That's the biggest sheet I can get, and if you don't like it, there's nothing I can do about it. So describe yourself." "Humph," said the monster and began to sing in a high pitch which sounded quite horrible with it's shrieky voice: Eyes like flames And nose like pails, Ears like horns And teeth like nails, A scary, fearsome sight to see Monster, monster, monster me! "Wait a minute!" shouted Moin. What do you mean, nose like pails? You mean you have more than one nose? "Oh bah, what a silly boy I've got. I mean my nostrils are as deep as buckets, of course." ... Skull-shaped mole On rock-like chin, Long green hair And purple skin, In the dark, you'll scream to see Monster, monster, monster me! Drum-shaped chest And arms like trees, Bamboo legs on Feet like skis, Terrifying as can be Monster, monster, monster meeeeeeeee! There was a silence as Moin drew the monster, part by part, slowly, carefully and precisely. "Finished?" "Almost," said Moin. "Right here you are." "Now hold the paper up', the monster said. "I'll look at it as if I'm looking into a mirror. Then I'll appear." So Moin held the paper up. And.. "Eeeeeek!" said the monster. "Eeeeeeeeeeek!" said Moin, startled to see his drawing suddenly turn into a live creature. "Owowowowow! What have you done? What have you done?" wailed the monster. "Why? What's the matter?" "This is not how I should look," wept the monster. "I'm fearsome. You've made me look funny!" "I've drawn you exactly as you described yourself," said Moin, miffed. He thought he'd done a splendid job of drawing the monster. "I can't help it if you don't know how to describe yourself." "I'm supposed to be purple." "Oh, yes, um ... sorry. I ran out of purple so I used the closest colour I could find." "Pink? Bright pink is closest to purple? And why are my legs so thin?" "They're bamboos, aren't they? That's what you said - bamboo legs." "These are not bamboos, they're drumsticks!" "What rubbish! Drumsticks don't look like that." "Bamboos don't look like this either. And what are these things I have instead of feet?" "Skis, of course." "These? You call these skis? They look like brooms." "I don't know what skis look like. I guessed. I'm very good at guessing. They look kind of ski-ish to me. You know, skittish and kind of brushy." "And which animal has horns like these?" "Oh, were they supposed to be animal horns? I thought you meant the kind of horns that autorickshaws have." "You mean I'm going to be walking around with autorickshaw horns? Oh, woe!" "You complain too much," said Moin. "Of course I'll complain; look at this - you've drawn my teeth upside down! How am I going to eat with these blunt nail heads?" "If you wanted them with the sharp side down you should have said so. I can't read your stupid mind, can I?" "So many millions of children in the world, and I had to get the one child who can't draw," sobbed the monster. "Then go find some other stupid child," said Moin, throwing down his crayons. "I didn't ask you to crawl under the bed and wake me up and make me draw all kinds of things in the middle of the night. Go away and find some great painter. Go and hide under Picasso's bed." "I can't. Now that you've drawn me, I have to stay with you. Besides, Picasso's dead." "Forever?" asked Moin, alarmed. "Once people die, they're usually dead forever." "No, I mean are you going to stay with me forever?" "Forever," nodded the monster glumly. "That's the rule." "Oh no," said Moin. "Exactly," said the monster.

- "And which animal has horns like these?"
- "Oh, were they supposed to be animal horns? I thought you meant the kind of horns that autorickshaws have."

so! you see, it starts rather well. i read the opening in the store, and immediately gobbled up the book...

the story kept going well, unfolding a series of adventures, going to a birthday party, where monster gets to meet two of moin's friends - tony and parvati. then he goes to school where he is stuck up on a noticeboard as a painting but ends up singing for the principal, who has a psychoanalytic fit after encountering the monster.

the monster lives through a large set of rules, but only bits and pieces of the rulebook are revealed - as and when it suits the monster. "Bet you made up half the rules!" says moin at one point. At this, the monster produces

	Monster Rule 18:  A monster cannot make up rules.

but how will moin keep hiding the monster from the world of adults --
especially so when it has a penchant for singing in a shrieky voice and
gobbling up large amounts of food?  life becomes quite a tough act for
moin.  in the end, moin and his friends try to see how they might get rid
of monster - can they send him back to wherever he came from?

         "Are you an alien? Is that what you are?  An extra-terrestrial from
    outer space?" Tony asked the monster.
         "I wish you wouldn't use all these big words," said the monster.  And
    it curled up on the sheets and fell asleep. p.85

somewhere in the middle, the plot loses steam, and it seems as if
the author is hunting around for things for the monster to do.  maybe around
this point, she sees a dog at a friend's house and then the story has the
monster riding the dog in a chapter that seems to be almost an afterthought.

however, the funny parts continue (the monsters ears go praap, like
autorickshaw horns, when pressed, p.95), and the story ends on a gentle
note, where the monster is not sent away after all...

the drawings by anitha balachandran keep up the humour, and also the context.
for example, there's a picture of his bedroom, and later, the same bed with
the monster eating bananas on it, and you can see the old wall and floor
sploshed with banana peel...

on the whole, definitely one of the better kid's books in the indian market

Also worth looking at

* Check out the wonderful Tiger on a Tree, conceived by Pulak Biswas,
  one of India's pioneering children's book illustrators; enlivened with
  rhyming text by Anushka Ravishankar (her first book).  It was out of
  print for long, but seems to be available now from Tara Publishing!

  The text leaps across pages like the tiger,
  or it splashes over the page, like a river.

* Followup story from this book: Moin the monster songster.

links: * Groovy Dhruv's review in the guardian * Moin Kaif, a student of Class IV, hears something shuffling and sniffling under his bed one night and when he asks who it is, a voice answers that it is a monster.


One night, in the dim darkness of his room, Moin heard something shuffling
and sniffling under his bed.  It is a monster, and soon Moin has to learn to
live with the monster and its habits, which include a love for bananas,
singing, and new hairstyles. However, keeping the monster a secret from his
parents and teachers is a tough task, and finally Moin decides that the only
thing to do is to send the monster back where it came from.

bookexcerptise is maintained by a small group of editors. get in touch with us! bookexcerptise [at] gmail [dot] .com.

This review by Amit Mukerjee was last updated on : 2015 Apr 14