Picture Book Review: She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lynn Fulton & Felicita Sala

Review: She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lynn Fulton, illus. Felicita Sala
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: September 18, 2018 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

On the bicentennial of Frankenstein, join Mary Shelley on the night she created the most frightening monster the world has ever seen.

On a stormy night two hundred years ago, a young woman sat in a dark house and dreamed of her life as a writer. She longed to follow the path her own mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, had started down, but young Mary Shelley had yet to be inspired.

As the night wore on, Mary grew more anxious. The next day was the deadline that her friend, the poet Lord Byron, had set for writing the best ghost story. After much talk of science and the secrets of life, Mary had gone to bed exhausted and frustrated that nothing she could think of was scary enough. But as she drifted off to sleep, she dreamed of a man that was not a man. He was a monster.

This fascinating story gives readers insight into the tale behind one of the world’s most celebrated novels and the creation of an indelible figure that is recognizable to readers of all ages.

“Now Mary snapped her locket shut. She wanted to prove that her mother was right! A woman’s writing could be just as important as a man’s.”

She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein written by Lynn Fulton and illustrated by Felicita Sala is a beautifully told and strikingly illustrated picture book biography that explores key moments in Mary Shelley’s young life and the events leading up to the writing of Frankenstein.

“…what would happen to that ‘lifeless matter’ once someone had given it life?” The men did not seem to care. They only asked if something could be done- never if it should.

While staying at Lord Byron’s beautiful home in Switzerland, Mary Shelley is involved in a ghost story writing competition with the other men in the house (including Byron and Percy Shelley). Mary is stuck, thinking over ideas for a ghost story…she then overhears the men talking, voices booming about “scientific experiments, their favorite topic”, of how electricity was used to “make a dead frog kick its legs!”, and how “man will conquer nature”. Mary wonders at the men’s proclamations and is unnerved, later laying awake and thinking about monsters, vampires, ghosts and even of loneliness. As lightning illuminates the room Mary is in, she sees her “reflection…pale and strange, like something dead restored to life” in a mirror before her. With increasing intensity, unsettling thoughts and images burst forth in Mary’s mind; vividly imagining a creature strapped on a table, of a creature brought to life… of her as the creator of a monster that wants something from her…who is now pulling back the curtains to Mary’s room, searching for her, needing something, until…Mary sits up, no monster in sight, and the bud for what is to be Frankenstein is born. Fulton’s writing and presentation of the story is so enticing here, giving time to the fascinating cerebral workings Mary might have experienced, building great tension by articulating Mary’s fears and discomforts that her racing imagination seizes onto. Sala’s artwork is gorgeous and terrifically forbidding when the story calls for it; the washes of rich and murkier tones contrasting so perfectly with eerie paleness, close ups or Mary and the monster juxtaposed with more hazy, distant imaginings.

Overall a fantastic picture book biography with Lynn Fulton’s memorable storytelling matched by Felicita Sala’s beautifully ambient illustrative work. There is insight offered through the narrative, touching upon everything from female writers being, historically, largely brushed off to Mary’s thoughts on men’s disturbingly cavalier approaches to conquering nature. A note here that it may be inevitable that comparisons will be made between this title and the recently released Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein. However, I will say this: not only is each book incisive, marvelous and unique on its own merits, but also: yes, please to having more terrific books for younger readers about the life and work of Mary Shelley! For readers interested in learning about Mary Shelley with an introduction to her and her groundbreaking work, She Made a Monster is an excellent pick. This title, like Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, is also a great children’s selection to suggest to readers who love exploring picture book biographies and/or non-fiction titles about the lives of trailblazing women- along the lines of Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13, Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova, Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles (illustrated by Felicita Sala!), or Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker.

 

 

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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