Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 9: Raymund and the Fear Monster

Episode 9: Raymund and the Fear Monster


To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators about including cognitive elements in their work). The act of reading out loud is not enough. When reading a picture book, or even a middle grade book, we are given a fantastic opportunity to develop an interactive experience with our children.

What is an interactive experience?

This interactive experience does not require any devices. It does require constant interfacing between the adult and the child/children.

When reading to children, you want to deliver the book in a manner that invites the children to participate as active listeners and engages responses from them that grow their minds.

Passive listening is all very well, but the story is soon over, and an opportunity has been lost to use ‘story time’ as a guided exploration of another world, or some subject. I totally understand how often the bedtime story has to be delivered promptly and that there is no time for discussion. I firmly believe however, when possible, an extended period devoted to reading and delving into the text, benefits the child, and is enjoyed by both the adult and the child.

Usually a book’s cover illustration attracts my attention – however, I wanted to read this picture book after reading the author’s blog:

I am grateful Megan was willing share the immense time and effort that needs to be taken to create a picture book. I was also struck by the constantly needed message to help children overcome fear.

Raymund and the Fear Monster

Written by Megan Higginson

Illustrated by Ester De Boer

This self-published book was printed by Blue Brumby Books.

The illustrations were created with graphite and colour pencils.

Both the title and the cover illustration give a clear indication of the theme of the story. It is spooky, creepy, horrifying, thrilling and in the end, very satisfying.

This fiction book is perfect for children aged 6 to 8, though it will appeal to some younger and old children. It has a universal theme which will make it a useful tool for teachers and parents. It is longer than the average 32-page picture book, but is still an easy and engrossing read.


Raymund and his fellow villagers are being terrified by a horrific monster. Who will defeat the monster?

Lessons to be learnt from this fantastic book:

  1. Courage – The over-arching theme of this book is ‘courage’ and that courage is a choice that anyone can make. Through the story, we come to understand how crippling fear becomes and how it affects everyone around us. At some point, every person needs to learn how to overcome fear. For every person, their journey will be different. The causes of fear are different for each person. For some, they fear public speaking. For others, spiders or mice can induce a panic attack. I get cold shudders just seeing a picture of a clown (and I am very afraid of rats and mice, and break into a cold sweat at the thought of speaking to strangers). For others will be fear of the unknown or of change. Some people are afraid of dogs, sharks, reptiles or birds. Some people of afraid of loud noises or being enclosed in a tight space.

Despite our fears, we can choose to be over-wrought by them, or to choose to be courageous.

 “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all. From now on you’ll be traveling the road between who you think you are and who you can be. The key is to allow yourself to make the journey.” Princess Diaries

There are other children’s books which deal with the themes of fear and courage, but I really liked this book, because it showed that very often our fears are either not real at all, or we have made them bigger than they actually are. When we are willing to face our fears, we often find that they are not as scary as we supposed.

I write this primarily to myself and hope that by reminding myself, I can encourage someone else too.

  • Observation Skills – Ester has created highly detailed illustrations, often with only the slightest hint of colour. Children can be encouraged to study the illustrations and search for all the details – the hidden animals, birds, insects, etc. Searching in a highly detailed scene for particular items is called ‘visual figure ground’. It teaches young brains how focus on a systematic search of important information and how to ignore unnecessary data. Doing this also improves ‘visual attention’ – the ability to persevere until they find what they are looking for. We can also ask children to observe changes, for example: looking for the signs of the monster’s evolution. They will compare what they have seen with new visual cues.
  • Vocabulary development – Although the language is age appropriate, Megan has utilised a wealth of interesting and advancing adverbs, verbs, adjectives and onomatopoeia. The use of these more advanced words in context, helps children to understand their meaning, even if they have not been previously acquainted with the words.
  • Cultural Awareness – Even though the story is based in a rural village in the Philippines, the theme is so universal that it can be understood by anyone from any culture. I love that the book introduces children in Australia (and hopefully, globally) to how some Filipinos live, and that they share some of the same childhood experiences, regardless of where they live. Children are children, not matter where they are.

For writers:

  • Text is presented in varying quantities – The text was broken up for emphasis – some pages contain a lot of text, other pages only a brief phrase.
  • Vocabulary – Deliberate use of words that can invoke feelings of fear. My youngest niece loves ‘scary’ movies and books. She loves this story, but I think for very sensitive children, this book can be a fun read if they are also in a supportive environment, and the adult reading partner is willing to mediate the concept of courage throughout the book and encourage the child to finish the story.
  • Font – Bold, and different font types have been used to add emphasis to particular words or phrases. This is effective and not necessarily a decision made by the writer. But it is still a concept to keep in mind when writing a picture book. Some illustrators can also hand letter, so may wish to include this feature in their illustrations.
  • Onomatopoeia – This tool helps bring the monster to life. Megan used onomatopoeia, which increased the richness and tension of the story: e.g. ‘Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Scraaaatch. Scraaaaaaatch. Scra-a-a-pe. Aaaarrrggh!

For illustrators:

  • Graphite illustrations – There is no need to spend a fortune on expensive media. Ester used fine-liners, graphite and coloured pencils to bring this story to life. Her images, in this book, are some of the most memorable picture book illustrations for me.
  • Dynamic composition and format – Ester created the illustrations the way a film-maker would. When she wants the monster to be his most intimidating, she utilises a close-up view in a full bleed, double-page spread. Sometimes she used small spot illustrations to show story progression.  Sometimes a street view format was used, but so were slightly elevated and full aerial views. Ester zooms in and she zooms out. The illustrations are exciting and effectively portray the emotions evoked in the story.
  • Colour palette – the colour palette is extremely limited, which helps all the illustrations to be extremely cohesive. As the sketches are so highly detailed, more colour-use would have negatively impacted the effectiveness of the illustrations.

About the writer:

Megan Higginson is an Australian author and illustrator of children’s books. She struggled with dyslexia as a child, but overcame it and became an avid reader.

About the illustrator:

Ester De Boer lives in Australia and is an obsessive illustrator of several children’s books.

 ‘Raymund and the Fear Monster’ can be purchased:

For those of you new to my blog, I blog about my illustration journey (I am working on a new picture book at the moment, so am sharing the journey and process as I go), and review picture books (to share how cognitive elements can be drawn from the book to educate the child, and also how writers and illustrators can incorporate these elements in their work).

At the moment, I am trying to produce one of each blog per month. Please join me again next month.

Happy reading!