Little salamander Spike, no bigger than a lily pad, was mixed-up all right. He thought he had all the requisite skills to be a monster–he could swoosh his slithery tail, shake his spiky crown, and bare his stumpy teeth. Practicing on his three buddies, the duck, armadillo and vole, was a disaster as they found his antics adorable and declared him “cuter than a bug’s behind.” When a Gila Monster appeared through the mist, Spike’s friends quickly disappeared to leave him to defend his turf. Unsuccessful in scaring El Monstruo, he ended his effort with a smile which lead to a sweet friendship and sent the Gila Monster on his way. Spike’s friends slowly reappeared, sure he had saved them, Spike replying with just a smile. No one had to know he made a friend along the way.

I’ve read this book to many kids, individually and in groups and with each reading they become more enamoured with Spike. One little guy said, “Hi Spike!” as I brought it out of my bag for a reading.   Kids loved the rich vocabulary describing our endearing character–“Spike’s crown of spikes drooped and he sank beneath the water, settling in the scum at the bottom of the lake.” We started to droop our shoulders in response to Spike and one little friend showed me a droopy face. As Spike attempted to spook his friends with a  “splish, splash, splatter and splutter,” kids quickly got into the rhythm of repeating this line, as one said to me, “Is that a tongue twister?” We swooshed our tails, shook our spikes and bared our teeth (that was a favorite) following along with the story, learning language through experiencing the text.  Many conversational opportunities arose in this tale of fear and friendship and how one feels throughout. Why was Spike sad? Did he really scare the monster? Why did his friends cheer for him at the end? A special section following the story gives the back story on his friends and little Spike, who is actually an endangered axolotl. A kindergartner asked me, “Is this non-fiction?” The learning continued! Author Susan Hood’s concise text provides the best in a children’s picture book–challenging vocabulary, fun repetitive phrases, catchy images to act out, a sprinkling of beginner Spanish words and a delightful tale of friendship versus fear that little ones can relate to.

Spike the Mixed-up Monster is a must-read, playful, delightfully illustrated tale that charms readers and expands their language learning.

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