Halloween is NOT my favorite holiday. I do have to admit that I got a kick out of dressing up my babies as farm animals, but as a child, Halloween really freaked me out. It took only a brief glimpse of a mask-clad individual to send me running. It didn’t matter what the mask was; I found Ronald Reagan and Freddy Krueger equally distressing. I dreaded trick-or-treating, because there was always that one house where an over-zealous parent was hiding in the bushes dressed as the undead, waiting to scare the tater-tots out of unsuspecting children. All the Kleenex-dressed-Tootsie-Pops in the world couldn’t make up for the fear I felt on that last day of October each year.


I have tried not to transfer these fears onto my children. Really, I have. I’ve stressed repeatedly that most things Halloween related are make-believe…that zombie cheerleaders do not, in fact, go to our local high school, and that it would be really and truly impossible to ride a horse without a head. But who can blame a child (or a parent for that matter) for being afraid in the presence of Hannibal Lecter, or Beelzebub, not to mention the Grim Reaper himself? We all try to shield our kids from such images. But, as a run-in with a cackling, motion-triggered candy bowl on what is supposed to be a harmless stroll through Target will teach us, we can’t control it all.

So, in an effort to disarm these scary images, we turn to the wonderful world of books. There are so many picture books out there that take monsters and turn them into relatable characters and fun friends. They use humor to flip the frightening on its head. Today I give you my favorite charming monster tale by the fabulous Mo Willems: LEONARDO, THE TERRIBLE MONSTER.

Leo jkt FINAL 1/5


Written and Illustrated By: Mo Willems

Published By: Hyperion Books, August 2005

Topics/Themes: Monsters, Being Yourself, Failure, Persistence

Opening:Leonardo was a terrible monster…he couldn’t scare anyone.”

Synopsis: “Leonardo is truly a terrible monster-terrible at being a monster that is. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t seem to frighten anyone. Determined to succeed, Leonardo sets himself to training and research. Finally, he finds a nervous little boy, and scares the tuna salad out of him! But scaring people isn’t quite as satisfying as he thought it would be. Leonardo realizes that he might be a terrible, awful monster-but he could be a really good friend.”


How to Use this Book with your Kids: There are some truly fun characters in this book. In addition to Leonardo, you have Tony, the monster with 1642 teeth, Eleanor, the monster so big you can only see her feet (because she doesn’t fit on the page!), and Hector, the “just plain weird” monster. You could have your kids brainstorm what kind of monster they would be…would they have 6 pairs of eyes? Would they have a tail they could swing from trees on? Would they be so tiny they could fit in your pocket? Then you could have them draw a picture of their monster. You could also use this book to talk about the characteristics of a good friend. What makes Leonardo a good friend in this story? For more fun activities, including coloring pages, check out Mo Willem’s website featuring Leonardo himself HERE.

Why I Like this Book: Mo Willems is a master of simplicity. There are not a lot of fancy bells and whistles in this book. In fact, at 263 words total (many of which, surprisingly, appear in a single spread), it makes for a pretty quick read. We get to know Leonardo and his problem instantly…what is a monster to do when he is just not scary?  Leonardo’s simple quest to “find the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world and scare the tuna salad out of him,” will entertain kids and parents alike. And hopefully, in a month filled with bats and boogey-men, give them one less thing to be afraid of.

Image Source:// Main Image// Child from Author// Leo

Amy Dixon

Amy Dixon


Growing up as one of seven siblings, the only peace and quiet Amy Dixon ever got was inside the pages of a book. Now a writer, runner, and mom, her first picture book, MARATHON MOUSE, was published in November of 2012. She writes from her home in Clovis, California, where she lives with her four little inspirations and her marathon-running husband, Rob.