Reasons To Read the Book Monkey with a Tool Belt:
#1: It is named Monkey with a Tool Belt.
#2: It features a monkey by the name of Chico Bon Bon.
#3: And yes, it’s brilliant, funny, well-illustrated, blah blah blah. But did you see the title? It’s MONKEY WITH A TOOL BELT!! How cool is that?
Basically, inside every book reviewer is a five-year-old child who screams with delight when she reads titles created by talented whizzes like Chris Monroe. Ms. Monroe is a Minnesotan with a cartoonist background and an ear for a funny phrase. With this, her second foray into the world of picture books, the result is delightful. Distinctly child-friendly with great art and a story worth reading, Monkey with a Tool Belt (I just can’t say it often enough) is going to wind up being one of those books that kids remember and treasure for years.
Chico Bon Bon. Your average everyday monkey with a tool belt. Outfitted with everything from claw hammers to clam hammers, Chico is the kind of guy you want around when something needs fixing or building. And even when he doesn’t get something right the first time, it doesn’t take long for him to correct his mistake. One day, Chico is trapped by a nefarious organ grinder intent on making the monkey his new dancing stooge. Fortunately, after the organ grinder takes Chico to his home, he indulges in operating a lot of his loud appliances at once. This is more than adequate to cover up the sound of Chico’s tools as he takes a variety of steps towards escaping from his box. One rubber hammer later Chico is on the bus home (his fare having been contained in the belt as well). Safely tucked into bed, the monkey dreams of the things he’ll build and invent tomorrow.
There is nothing quite so comforting as a competent hero. Monroe has created a story that is as kid-friendly as it is partly because you never really worry too badly for Chico. Even when he’s in dire straits you’re comforted by the very presence of his tool belt. The text may or may not do well as a readaloud though. I mean, the words do well when read but there are lots of tiny bits of text and images that deserve close one-on-one readings. For example, when we see Chico building things for a bunch of different people (docks for ducks, clocks for clucks, etc.) each picture is accompanied by a tiny insert of the tools he’s using. Ditto the huge map showing the route the organ grinder took to get to his circus. Then again, you might be able to skim these areas if you wanted to present this book to a class. I don’t think it would hurt the story any.
The art is great but the details really make it pop. Take Chico Bon Bon’s tool belt for a starter. Of the multitude of tools found there, both real and imaginative, it’s hard not to love Monroe’s tiny details. The tool labeled “ouija” is indeed a ouija board’s plaquette. The bungee hammer is floppity, the turkey wrench has feathers, and the banana hammer has a distinctly yellow cast. Really, most pictures contain a plethora of details if you’re willing to look for them. I loved that when the circus tigers helped the previous monkey escape from the zoo they outfitted him with a bindle (and one of them glares at the organ grinder through the window later in the story). And my co-worker is convinced that the last image of Chico Bon Bon, dreaming of being shot out of a banana cannon, looks like no one so much as Brazilian skateboarder Bob Burnquist. I suspect that the resemblance is purely coincidental, but I could certainly be wrong.
Monkeys are funny. Tool belts are not funny. So how do we account for the fact that monkeys plus tool belts are very funny? I’ve no idea, but if Chris Monroe keeps churning out more picture books of this style and flavor, I’ll be a happy woman. Definitely a keeper for the tool belt and monkey lovers of the world.