Martine Murray (text) and Anna Read (illustrator), The Wanting Monster, Parachute Press, March 2021, 48 pp., RRP $29.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780645039504
The Wanting Monster is insidious, whispering in people’s ears to suggest to them things they don’t have that others have – or even things no-one has but a person might want. The monster is a metaphor for greed and envy and, although small, is unpleasant and powerful. Its whispering in the ears of many people in the town lead them to dissatisfaction and jealousy and even to go to absurd lengths to achieve the things after which they hanker. This is particularly true when some of the townspeople cut down trees in order to make longer and longer ladders in order to pull down a star for themselves. Eventually, the greed means there is no forest left, no stream, no flowers, no birds and no bees.
As with many other stories of this sort, a small child acts as a redeemer here. The child is the one who sees the necessity of removing the Monster (that is, after all, really quite small) and saves the community while the adults panic and prepare to leave the town altogether. The child takes the Monster far, far away and leaves it under a dandelion where it can no longer cause problems. It is so isolated that no one will find it or hear its destructive voice again. It cries in its frustration and its tears re-formed the stream. Following the child’s intervention, the community comes together to overcome the destruction their greed and envy has caused, restoring the fields and the forest. When the stars are restored, even the Monster can see them and recognise their beauty.
The illustrations reflect and enhance the changing mood of the people in the town and give a visual representation of the damage the Monster is causing. When the people recognise what they have done and are ashamed of themselves, for example, the mood is reflected in the sombre tones of the illustrations, and the absurdity of what they have done is heightened by the tiny size of the Monster. How could such a small thing have caused so much damage? There is almost a hint at chaos theory here – one small action (in this case a whisper) can have far-reaching and profound consequences. Once the river has been restored and the people set about bringing back the trees and flowers, a fold-out spread indicates this change and the flowers and colours signify this transformation and joyful mood of the town.
The layout is varied with double-page spreads, written text placed in a variety of locations on the pages and the Monster’s size varying as it insinuates itself into the consciousness of the townspeople. The cover of the book is black with the only image being that of the Monster, directly facing the viewer. It does not look very threatening and that is, in fact, part of its danger as it changes the way people think without them really noticing that it is the Wanting Monster doing that.
The book has a fable-like feel and will provide a valuable stimulus for many discussions. There is the issue of environmental degradation, the idea of ethics versus economics, the destruction of community and what community actually means and the potential danger of the cult of the individual, among others. The book ends with a direct question to the reader, asking them to reflect on their own behaviour: Does the Wanting Monster ever whisper to you? It is a picture book for reading and sharing across a range of ages.
Reviewed by Margot Hillel