book review: Monkey : Not Ready for Kindergarten

title: Monkey : Not Read for Kindergarten
author: Marc Brown
date: Knopf Books for Young Readers; 2015
main character: Monkey

Monkey : Not Ready for Kindergarten is the second book in the Monkey series written by Marc Brown.  Monkey : Not Ready for the Baby was released in 2016. and the most recent addition the series, Monkey : Not Ready for Bedtime released in late 2017. The first two books have been released in paperback.

Marc Brown has written and illustrated well over 60 books. Perhaps he is best known for his Arthur books which became a series on PBS.

Here are some of the reviews for Not Ready for Kindergarten.

SLJ: “With his big, expressive eyes, Monkey is the center of Brown’s vibrant spreads. Colored pencil and gouache illustrations and childlike hand lettering illuminate Monkey’s personality and keep the story grounded in his perspective.”

Kirkus: “While the colored-pencil–and-gouache illustrations are bright and colorful and show things that will be familiar to readers, Brown’s monkeys are not terribly cute or cuddly. Rendered in a childlike style, their expressions are sometimes odd. Also, those practicing new reading skills may have difficulty with Brown’s handwritten text, as the a’s look like d’s, letters that usually dip below the line don’t, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between upper- and lowercase letters. Still, sure to give readers, whether adult or child, lots of ideas for easing children into the transition to school.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review) “They all “play school” at home (Monkey and his brother take turns being teacher), and a play date lets Monkey meet his future classmates ahead of time. Brown’s hand-scrawled text and childlike pencil-and-gouache artwork give the impression that he’s on Monkey’s side—and that of readers—from the very first page, creating an eminently reassuring and empathetic resource for kindergarteners-to-be.”

The book was even featured in the NY Times and the Horn Book as good books for beginning the school year. With 266 ratings on Goodreads that averaged 2.51 and 59 reviews, no one found the book problematic. Let’s dig into the pages.


Monkey : Not Ready for Kindergarten is the story of a young child named ‘Monkey’ who is frightful that he’s not yet ready for kindergarten. His parents (his mother is pregnant, laying groundwork for the next book) and his older brother work to instill confidence in Monkey while preparing him for the first day of school. His brother teaches him about using an inside voice while they play school.


His parents take him to the library where they play school.


Here in this image, the carpet resembles grass while cases surround the family as if they’re in the zoo. After all, these are monkeys. Sitting on one of the bookcases is the life-like photo of a white child with their hand to their mouth, as if laughing.


It’s odd that the book’s font resembles a child’s handwriting while the narrative voice is third person. The written text seeks to resemble the child’s voice while the voice is not that of the child named Monkey.


Monkey likes to sing and eat and suck his thumb.


As he leaves for his first day of school, Monkey and his parents exchange a special handshake or dap.


Disturbing to me and others with whom I’ve shared the cover of this book is the fact that it was ever published with this anthropomorphic image that too closely resembles an African American child. And, this is the third book in the series. The fact that no reviewer saw any problems with this book is perplexing.

A very brief history on how monkeys have been associated with people of African descent over time:

“A hateful association between Blacks and monkeys or apes was yet another way that the antebellum South justified slavery. Blacks were considered by some Whites to be more simian than human, and therefore had no self-evident rights, including freedom. After the Civil War, the emancipation of slaves, and passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15 amendments to the Constitution, White bigots used the association to justify Jim Crow laws, and the use of violence, such as the lynching of Blacks who challenged or threatened the status quo. The general acceptance of the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin was easily twisted into a means of identifying further “evidence” of the primitive status of Blacks.”

“All too often, the White perpetrators of these incidents claim to be ignorant of the history. Studies show that only about 8% of White Americans claim to be aware of the history of the association between Blacks and apes. Whether or not this is true, some disturbing research released in 2009 clearly shows a high level of subconscious engagement with this association.”

This book only belongs in a research library where faculty members actively educate about problematic children’s books. In school and public library collections it will only serve to perpetuate the stereotypes that are held about people of African descent. According to Worldcat, 1,141 libraries currently hold a copy of one of the six editions of the book.

“The researchers believe this association is held in place through “implicit knowledge,” the result of a lifetime of conditioning via the long history of stereotyped anti-Black imagery that depicts Blacks as less than human.”

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