A review of

Monkey Day

by Ruth Krauss and Phyllis Rowand

CENTRAL QUESTION: What did baby boomers read as children?

Current state of book: out of print; Ratio of humans to monkeys in opening illustration of book: five to one; Ratio of humans to monkeys in illustration immediately following mass monkey wedding: one to eleven; Structures built by monkeys: house, barn, igloo, tepee, castle; Subject of picture book given to monkeys on second Monkey Day: bananas; Number of years by which book anticipated centennial celebrations for Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: two; Representative monkey dialogue: “Cheecheecheechee chee chee”; Possible textual forerunner that assigns blame for world-order changes: “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:12; KJV)

As an artifact of the post–World War II US baby boom, Ruth Krauss’s 1957 picture book Monkey Day makes perfect sense. It doesn’t just tell the story of a population explosion and attendant housing boom: it cheers for one. It opens on Monkey Day, with a human family bearing gifts for a girl-monkey. When one character, the girl who “loves monkeys,” presents the gift of a boy-monkey, there follows a chain of events on which schoolyard rhymes are built: a monkey marriage, a monkey baby, more monkey babies, and more monkey marriages. After the first baby monkey appears—as a tiny, solitary being—monkeys take over in disturbing numbers. In the wake of a mass monkey wedding, the primates emerge as apparently autonomous, increasingly verbal, and totally intent on building their own homes.

Krauss, a prolific children’s author, had already written about reproduction, or some portion of the process, in what have become her two most enduring titles: The Carrot Seed (1945, illustrated by Crockett Johnson) and A Hole Is to Dig: A First Book of First Definitions (1952, illustrated by Maurice Sendak). Both of these are simple and spare and self-contained: a single carrot is grown from seed in the former; the latter offers a concise expression of baby-making (“Cats are so you can have kittens”). Monkey Day, on the other hand, is hyper and complicated and fecund and ultimately very, very full of monkeys, and its excesses are made all the weirder by illustrator Phyllis Rowand’s crazy-grinning efforts.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Ingrid Satelmajer

Ingrid Satelmajer has written for MAKE, n+1, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Her review of the YouTube Bible appeared in the September 2012 issue of the Believer.

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