In the summer, when students are at home and little ones needn’t be bundled to go out, it’s a perfect time to get into the habit of visiting your local library. Things are a little different this year, but many libraries are offering a curbside pickup service that makes it easy to refresh your reading materials. If you’re looking for a bright new picture book, Three Little Monkeys is just what you need.
This fun picture book is written by Quentin Blake, who is perhaps best known for his illustrations of Roald Dahl’s work. Here we see a sample of his own considerable writing skill, which is delightfully illustrated in turn by the wonderful Emma Chichester Clark.
The story is simple: a Parisian lady named Hilda Snibbs has three of the dearest pet monkeys. She rather spoils her little darlings, who repay her devotion by playfully ransacking her home every time she goes out. After embarking on a series of innocuous outings and returning each time to mounting chaos, Hilda finally gives way to exasperation and wishes aloud for a peaceful, monkey-free life.
The next day, Hilda enters her home warily. She tentatively explores each perfectly-manicured room, searching for inevitable disaster. But everything is in its place, and there is no sign of her three naughty monkeys. Her worry grows, until she finds them sitting innocently in the linen closet. Overjoyed with relief, she goes to bed that night with a renewed sense of gratitude… until she pulls back the covers and belatedly discovers that day’s mischief.
Hilda’s woes give us a first-rate glimpse at how the best picture books work. The text is brief but superbly paced, keeping little ones laughing from start to finish. Clark’s illustrations, cheerfully detailed in their own right, support the story perfectly. (As a matter of fact, Hilda’s charming abode is one of my literary dream-houses.) The iconic setting in Paris is not important to the story, but adds color and interest much as it does in Ludwig Bemelmans’ classic Madeline.
As for the theme of the story, I find it not only uproariously funny but also reassuringly sweet. What parent hasn’t despaired of urchin-induced disorder? And is there anything like even the mildest concern for reminding us that we adore our crazy little wrecking-crews? Hilda’s gentle panic when her monkeys (and their shenanigans) appear to be missing is a dear reminder to children that they truly are loved no matter what. Adults will recall that the loveliest home is not necessarily the neatest, but the one that is full of life and joy. The cautionary conclusion is a pure delight.
If you haven’t ventured to the library yet, put this title on your list and give it a try. It’s a terrific read-aloud for toddlers up through the early grades, and young children will enjoy flipping through the large colorful pictures. I’ve even caught my older children reading it to themselves and giggling. And really, what is a home without laughter… and a few little messes?
If you liked this book, you might also enjoy: Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans