Book: Monkey with a Tool Belt
Author: Chris Monroe
Age Range: 3 to 8
Background: As soon I read Betsy Bird's review of Monkey with a Tool Belt at A Fuse #8 Production, I knew that I had to have it. I included it in last week's Reviews that Made Me Want the Book feature. This week, I needed a birthday gift for a young friend of mine. I ordered a copy, figuring that I could gently pre-read it and then give it to him. Well, now it looks like I'll have to order another copy, because while I still want to give this to my friend, I simply must have it for myself, too. It is fabulous.
Review: Monkey with a Tool Belt, by Chris Monroe, is about a highly resourceful and accomplished monkey named Chico Bon Bon. Central to Chico's success is his well-stocked tool belt, featuring everything from you standard tack hammer to Seussian tools like a zoozle and a snozzer. In addition to a monkey wrench, Chico Bon Bon also has a turkey wrench and a donkey wrench. He even has a pajama hammer. Well, you get the idea.
The text itself is straightforward and preschooler friendly. For example: "Every day, Chico builds or fixes something for his friends and his family." Chico's creations are elaborate and fun, from a pipe organ for a ladybug to a roller coaster for local chipmunks. The illustrations of him building each item include little insets of the tools required (c-clamp, frizzle, etc.). Chico is clearly an asset to his community. One day, however, Chico is trapped by an unscrupulous organ grinder and taken all the way across town to the circus. Not to worry, though. Chico's trusty tool belt, and his own ingenuity, save the day.
This is a book that you almost read on two different levels. The rhyming text, sprinkled with names of tools, simply begs to be read aloud. Yet the detailed illustrations, usually several per page, reward poring over and give up their secrets gradually. My favorite passage, text-wise is:
"He uses his level on a toy box for Neville.
Wood wonglers are needed to make this nice bevel."
The picture shows what a bevel is. My favorite invention sketch is of Chico building a skateboard ramp, while various small animals say things like "dude", "totally", and "sweet." But my favorite overall illustration is of the journey that Chico and the organ grinder make to the circus. Shades of Richard Scarry, this page follows the organ grinder as he bikes along a winding road, past train tracks and parks and schools and shops. And, for the observant reader, a statue of "Monkey with a Pitchfork", a house made out of a jack-o-lantern, and a skunk smelling sunflowers, among other treats.
So there you have it. Seussian tools and inventions in a Richard Scarry-like town, delivered with a comic strip flavor via panels and sketches, and featuring a main character who is utterly unique and irresistible. Monkey with a Tool Belt is everything that a picture book should be. It is fun and read-aloud friendly, yet is detailed enough to reveal something new on every reading. I think you could read it with younger kids, focusing on the main story and Chico's expressions, but that as kids get older they'll appreciate the details of Chico's tools and his inventions. Really, I think that everyone who has young children should go out and get a copy of this book. I might see if I can buy it in bulk, for all of my gift-giving needs. Monkey with a Tool Belt has my highest recommendation.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.