Sesame Street, via Facebook, posted the above animated GIF to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the publication of “The Monster at the End of This Book“. Still published by Golden Books (which also published Gold Key Comics), it has since been published in myriad formats, including interactive ebooks and apps, smaller and larger sizes, personalized editions, and has even generated a sequel, co-starring Elmo. (Elmo is a bit of jerk, ignoring Grover’s fears as he encourages readers to turn the pages.)
If you doubt it’s a graphic novel, you can read it here and judge for yourself. But let’s see… word balloons (with awesome lettering)… onomatopoeia… sequential panels/pages (not just splash, but two-page splashes!)… breaking the Fourth Wall (very indie/underground for its time, especially in children’s literature!)… and even meta storytelling, as the previous pages are layered one atop the other as the reader keeps! turning! the! pages!
Why do I claim it’s the #1 bestselling graphic novel in the United States? According to a Children’s Television Workshop newsletter from 1973, the book sold two million copies the first year of publication, with a cover price of thirty-nine cents. Since then, it’s become a classic, beloved by generations of readers, and even voted #10 in the top 100 picture books by librarians in 2012! (Quite a few cartoonists on that list!) It continues to sell, currently #11 on Amazon’s Children’s Classics list, and #218 among all books! That’s a pretty good sales history, and Jon Stones’ obituary from 1997 placed the number at ten million. (Raina Telgemeier has 6.6+ Million copies of all her books in print, so she is easily #2, and #3, and maybe #4. Do we count Wimpy Kid?)
So, who are Jon Stone and Michael Smollin? Jon Stone was the executive producer of Sesame Street (also the writer of the pilot, and a director), who recommended Jim Henson and songwriter Joe Raposo to CTW’s president, Joan Ganz Cooney. Other claims to fame? He co-produced and co-wrote The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, the television special which served as a template for The Muppet Show. He passed away in 1997, from ALS. Many of the original characters were co-created by him, and the style of irreverent jokes aimed at adults come from his pen.
Michael retired after working his first career in the advertising industry and his second as a freelance illustrator. Most people alive today have seen his work in one medium or another. You might recognize his animated television commercials for Tide, MillBrook Bread, Triple S Blue Stamps, Gulf Oil Company, or Doctor Spot of Milk-bone fame during the 1950s and 60s. The artist’s light-hearted illustrations have graced many magazines to include; TV Guide, Time Magazine and Golf Magazine. The persona of his colorful children’s books has touched our families with publications for; Sesame Street, The Children’s Television Workshop, The Electric Company, Strawberry Shortcake, Disney’s Little Mermaid and others. Special projects were created for Colorforms Toys, Fisher-Price Toys, Playschool Toys and The Lego Group. Over the years, Michael’s imaginative endeavors have been recognized with awards from the Emmys, The Society of Illustrators, The Detroit Bravo Awards and The Hollywood Reporter. These web pages attempt to document highlights of the artist’s work in a retrospective spanning fifty-five years.
Go and visit his website, especially his work for TV Guide, which show a textbook example of when magazines frequently used cartoonish illustrations to add pizzazz to articles. Most of his work for CTW/Sesame Workshop is found under “choice illustrations“, many from other Sesame Street titles long out-of-print but fondly remembered.
We hope you fondly remember lovable, furry old Grover, his trepidation, and his embarrassment when he meets the monster at the end of this book. Perhaps you’ll share it with a young reader, and introduce them to the magic of words and pictures, and reading.