The book on which I chose to base my blog entry is the Sesame Street classic The Monster at the End of this Book. It is a dazzling work of metafiction in which the main character, Grover, speaks directly to the reader, asking him or her not to turn to the end of the book because the title has revealed to him that a monster is awaiting at the end. Grover reasons that if the reader does not turn the page, neither he nor the reader will have to encounter the monster that awaits at the end, something that Grover is very afraid of. When the reader refuses to listen to Grover and decides to turn the page anyway, Grover reacts dramatically, attempting to reason further with the reader that he or she should not turn the page. When the reader refuses again, Grover begins trying to physically prevent the reader from turning the page, at first tying the next page with a rope, then nailing a wooden barrier onto the page, and finally creating a brick wall to keep the reader from turning the page. Each time the reader turns the page in spite of Grover’s obstacles, the following page reveals that Grover’s barrier has been destroyed by the page turn, and Grover comments on how powerful the reader is. This parallels the idea that with each turn of a page of a book, a person gains knowledge and is therefore more powerful. At the end of the book, it turns out that the monster was Grover all along and everything is fine.
The book’s most effective feature is its reverse-psychology approach to convincing children to read, which makes it more appealing in some ways than more traditional books. By urging the child to not turn the page, the child both wants to defy Grover’s wishes and gets curious about what is at the end, causing him or her to want to press forward to the end of the book. Where finishing a normal book may seem like a chore, this book makes finishing fun. As Locke points out, “were matters order’d right, learning anything [children] should be taught might be made as much a recreation to their play, as their play is to their learning … Get them but to ask their tutor to teach them, as they do often their play-fellows, instead of his calling upon them to learn, and they being satisfy’d that they act as freely in this as they do in other things, they will go on with as much pleasure in it, and it will not differ from their other sports and play.” In other words, Locke believes learning would be more effective if it were as fun and voluntary as play. Blake seems to second this notion, writing “How can the bird that is born for joy/ Sit in a cage and sing?/ How can a child, when fears annoy,/ But droop his tender wing,/ And forget his youthful spring?”, meaning that it is difficult for a child to learn when he is compelled to learn in restrictive, traditional ways. By making progressing through this book seem more like fun than traditional learning, this book lives up to Locke’s Enlightenment ideal of the child learning through his desire to learn as opposed to being forced to learn.
Another thing that might increase this desire to progress through the book in smaller children could be the fact that, as Strasburger points out, “very young 2- and 3-year-olds show little understanding of the boundary between television and the real world,” while 4-year-olds “[tend] to assume that anything that looks real is real.” Furthermore, “[y]oung children may be able to report that an animated character is ‘not real’ yet still become quite frightened of it.” Because children of the age group that the book targets may not completely understand that Grover is fictional, the interactions between Grover and a child reader might feel more real than those between Grover and an older reader who understands Grover is fictional. If these interactions feel more real, it seems logical to assume that the child might feel more powerful in defying Grover and might also find it more fun to defy Grover, amplifying the reverse-psychology approach in some way.
In conclusion, I would say that this book is both in line with Locke’s Enlightenment ideal of making learning fun as well as the same idea from the present. Although we’ve likely shed some of Locke’s ideas, such as the negative impacts of interactions between children and other children as well as children and poor people, we have maintained idea that interactive, fun learning is more effective than the type of forced learning that might cause apprehension in children. The Monster at the End of this Book capitalizes on this idea and is very effective for it.
Strasburger, “Children and Adolescents”
William Blake, “The Schoolboy”
Locke, “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” Part IV