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Literature / Monster of the Year

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Monster of the Year is a 1989 children's book by Bruce Coville about Michael McGraw and Kevver Smith, two sixth-graders who decide to use Michael's mother's advertising agency to pull a prank on an anti-billboard group and advertise a "Monster of the Year" contest. Unbeknownst to them, a lot of monsters are eager to discern who among them is the monster of the year, and his house suddenly becomes filled with various classic movie monsters.

A revised edition was released in September 2020.

This book provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: The 2020 revised edition does this with a few characters.
    • Skip Toomaloo is renamed Eddie Toomaloo, with "Skip" as a nickname.
    • Kevver Smith becomes Kevver Washington.
    • Michael's mother's business is changed from "Adams Billboard and Outdoor Advertising" is changed to "Adams Billboard and Sign Advertising".
  • Adoptive Name Change: It's noted early on that when Elsa Adams got remarried to Jeff McGraw, he legally adopted her son Michael, who had his last name changed to match his stepfather's because Jeff meant more to him than his birth father (who'd abandoned the family when Michael was six months old).
  • Author Avatar: Jeff, Michael's step-dad, is a science fiction author, described as being bald with a beard. Bruce Coville is better known for his Space Brat series, and most of his pictures show him bald with a beard.
  • Awesome Mc Cool Name: Skip Toomaloo has an arguably worse name than his daughter Lulu, but seems to take pride in it.
  • Big Eater: Lulu Toomaloo, who's been this way since she was a baby. "I'm hungry" is practically her catchphrase.
  • Big Ol' Unibrow: One of the monsters who shows up to enter the titular contest looks like a normal man, except for his single thick unibrow. It takes Michael a minute to remember that he's read about people who have this trait, at which point he correctly identifies the man as a werewolf.
  • Birthday Buddies: Michael and Kevver first started sitting together at lunch in first grade because they both had Frankenstein lunchboxes. Discovering they shared a birthdate (August 29) is what cemented their friendship, and they've been close as brothers ever since.
  • Bowdlerise: The revised edition removes all the references to Lulu being overweight and describes her as being skinny instead.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Lulu Toomaloo, whom Michael and Kevver view as "the most spoiled kid we had ever seen" after their first day.
  • Culture Police: Myrna Smud's idea of censorship involves trying to wipe out anything creative (such as outdoor advertising, monsters and fairy tales), which she claims will stimulate the imagination and lead to crime.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jeff gets a few one-liners in.
  • Disappeared Dad: The narration casually mentions that Michael hasn't seen his birth father since he was six months old.
  • Fake–Real Turn: Michael and Kevver made up the Monster of the Year contest solely to mock BAM and fill in a billboard left empty by their actions. Then they got a call from radio station WERD offering to sponsor the contest and wanting to build their entire fall promotion around the idea (and normal people sending in entries for themselves or people they knew)... and telegrams from a pair of real monsters who wanted to enter themselves and a friend, respectively.
  • Fat Bastard: The book contains two female examples.
    • Lulu Toomaloo, as the author will frequently remind you. She's always out to make trouble, and is described as looking "like she was in training as a replacement for the Goodyear Blimp".
    • Myrna Smud is also overweight and a thoroughly unpleasant person who hates and tries to ban anything that stimulates the imagination (not to mention she actually hit Lulu, a little girl, over the head with her protest sign during the final riot of the book).
  • Food Fight: One breaks out during the dinner at Chez Stadium when the monsters get into an argument, and Quasimodo squashes his French pastry, aiming it at Sigmund Fred... but misses and gets a woman at a nearby table with a glob of white cream. Things escalate from there, up to and including flying pies and cream puffs, and a load of fire extinguisher foam thanks to an angry maître d.
  • Frankenstein's Monster: One of the monsters taking part in the titular contest is a Frankenstein's Monster (and Michael McGraw, one of the lead judges, even discusses the name mentally when he first meets the monster face-to-face and is trying to figure out what to call him), who turns out to be named Sigmund Fred. He was created by "The Doctor", and was eventually taken in by Igor, the Doctor's hunchbacked assistant.
  • Freudian Excuse: Discussed at one point, shortly before the book's This Means War! moment, when the characters are watching Myrna Smud on TV and wonder if one of these (such as her having seen a monster movie as a child and being terrified by it) is why she hates monsters so much.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: The 2020 edition is slightly different. Some names are changed, Lulu is no longer fat and there are some references to more modern-day properties like Harry Potter.
  • The Igor: He's even named Igor, and accompanies Sigmund Fred to the contest, but isn't planning to be a contestant himself.
  • I Have Many Names: The cast includes a Frankenstein monster with at least four names. According to Igor, the man who made the monster named him Sigmund, but used a brain from a man named Fred. So sometimes they call him Sigmund (or "Siggie" for short), sometimes they call him Fred, and sometimes they call him Sigmund Fred. But usually Igor doesn't call him anything, since it just upsets him (and indeed, he's starting to growl at this point in the conversation).
    Sigmund Fred (in response to the last part): "Just make sure you call me for dinner."
  • Mad Scientist: "The doctor" who created Sigmund Fred and whom Igor mentions having previously worked for.
  • The Maiden Name Debate: Protagonist Michael McGraw reveals through narration that his mother (Elsa Adams) changed her name to her husband's when she got married, changed back after they divorced, and said she'd stay with her maiden name for the rest of her life. Michael, on the other hand, had his name changed to match his stepfather's. As he puts it, "This confuses outsiders, since they can't figure out who I really belong to, but it suits the three of us just fine."
  • Monster Mash: The basic premise of the entire novel. The cast includes a Frankenstein's monster, a vampire, a gill man, a wolfman, a mummy, two hunchbacks (Quasimodo and Igor), a miniature Godzilla expy, and a Phantom of the Opera in a "Blink-And-You'll-Miss-It" cameo.
  • Moral Guardians: Myrna Smud, who serves as the antagonist, and her organization BAM!, aka "Billboards Are Monstrous". They've essentially declared war on anything that stimulates the imagination, which they claim will lead to crime.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Skip, as an early morning DJ, relies on coffee to get him through his day. Unfortunately, his daughter loves spicing it with "extras" as a way of tormenting him.
  • Only Sane Woman: Michael's mother, Elsa Adams, is the only normal person in the story.
  • Pie in the Face: During the food fight at Chez Stadium, someone discovers the dessert cart and throws a lemon meringue pie, which hits the snooty maître d in the face, and he retaliates with the fire extinguisher. Others get hit with pies too, including Myrna Smud, who's so offended by the whole thing that she takes her campaign against anything imaginative in a new direction, targeting the monsters themselves.
  • Pungeon Master: Kevver Smith makes puns all the time. His friend Michael McGraw has learned to tune him out when he does so.
  • Punny Name: Sigmund Fred, an obvious take on Sigmund Freud. Kevver, naturally, makes a remark about the name and how "That's what happens when you let some psycho analyze things."
  • Revenge: Lulu has made it her life's goal to get even with her parents for her Unfortunate Name. Among her methods are putting things like salt in her father's coffee.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The various monster characters are, for the most part, inspired by the title characters in the Universal Horror films (with Gadzinga as about the only exception).
    • When Igor's plane arrives, Michael remembers the film Young Frankenstein and almost expects him to correct their pronunciation of his name to "Eye-gore". (He doesn't.)
    • Jason and Freddy Krueger are namedropped as "taking over the business", along with others like them.
    • Michael and Kevver's old school is Bram Stoker Elementary, and its principal is Miss Shelley.
    • Skip Toomaloo and his daughter Lulu's names are one big reference to the children's song "Skip to My Lou", which also includes the line "Lou, Lou skip to my Lou!" in the lyrics.
  • Spoiled Brat: When Lulu was a baby, her parents spoiled her rotten — whatever she wanted, she got (Michael guesses that her parents figured it was better than hearing her scream). She's never grown out of this behavior, and her parents haven't either (in fact, she's the reason Station WERD sponsored the Monster of the Year contest, since she made all sorts of threats about what would happen if they didn't). About the only time they don't give in to her demands is when she threatens to hold her breath until she turns blue if they don't adopt Michael and Kevver immediately (she's nuts about them). When he exasperatedly tells the boys about this, Skip also informs them that he had to call a lawyer and have them explain to Lulu why it wasn't possible for them to do so.
  • Supreme Chef: Michael's mother claims she can cook like Betty Crocker, and it's not far from the truth. She doesn't like doing it more than once a month or so, since she's so busy with keeping up the house and her business, but she can when she feels the need. (The rest of the time, unless Jeff or Michael cooks, they usually just get Chinese takeout.)
  • Take That!: The whole book is one to censorship. In-universe, Mike and Kevver decide to make a monster billboard as a shot at BAM for trying to shut down Mrs. Adams' business.
  • Theatre Phantom: One makes a brief cameo in one scene. He has exactly one line of dialogue, suggesting they try to improve their reputations via an appearance on Broadway, and is never specifically mentioned again.
  • This Means War!: The Count is the one to say it after Myrna Smud's motivations are revealed while they're in Michael's living room, watching her on TV:
    TV interviewer: "Just what is it about the monsters that bothers you so much, Mrs. Smud?"
    Myrna Smud: "They overstimulate children's imaginations. This causes them to think too much, which is not healthy at a young age."
    Everyone in the room looks at one another in astonishment, except for...
    The Count (rises, trembling with anger): "This, means var!"
  • Unfortunate Name: Lulu Toomaloo, who's believed to have vowed revenge on her parents for her name by being as bratty as possible.
  • Vampire Vords: The Count always replaces his Ws with Vs.
  • Vegetarian Vampire: Literal example with The Count, who drinks only "the elixir of life": V8 juice. Through a straw. He says it feels more natural if he can suck it.
  • Would Hurt a Child: During the big riot the night of the contest, Myrna Smud whacks young Lulu Toomaloo, who's been leading a cheer in support of the monsters, over the head with her "Ban all monsters" sign. That's what triggers the crowd to go completely nuts and turns them all in favor of Lulu and the monsters.
  • WPUN: Mike and Kevver's favorite radio station, with its DJ Skip Toomaloo (and which ends up sponsoring the titular Monster of the Year contest), has the callsign WERD.