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Monster in the Basement Book: Harry and The Terrible Whatzit

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Harry is sure something terrible is waiting down in the cellar, and furthermore, he is sure it has gotten his mother. What he encounters is "a double-headed, three-clawed, six-toed, long-horned whatzit."

This classic book about a child facing his fears was originally published in 1977. The charming illustrations are ink pen line drawings with orange and brown ink printing. The characters, though obviously from a different era, are visually appealing. There is something almost bucolic about Harry's mother in her kerchief, glasses, and short hair picking flowers in the garden.

Harry and the Terrible Whatzit is a mid-length story with an easy-to-follow story line. The young hero of the story will do just about anything to find his mother, and so, we find him broom-in-hand in battle with the giant two-headed monster. Each time Harry swats the Whatzit with his broom, it grows smaller and smaller, shrinking in size until the monster has to escape to Sheldon Parker's house down the street.

This book from the 1970s is a childhood favorite of mine. I loved the rhythmic sound of repeating the Whatzit's name, and I enjoyed the story where Harry the child beats the silly (but scary-looking) monster in the basement.

But what about now? I almost hesitate to recommend this book to other parents and teachers because it shows a little boy hitting someone (or something) else. And hitting isn't a message I want to send to the little boys out there.

But in the context of this story, is hitting such a bad thing? Harry is depicted on the front cover with a pail on his head and a wooden sword in his hand, suggesting the chivalry required of a knight fighting a dragon. And like a young knight, Harry faces down his own fears to go looking for his mother, even if he is afraid of what is down in the basement. That takes both courage and bravery, and even a certain amount of self-sacrifice.

Are my concerns unfounded? Probably not. This is a different time than the 1970s, and many parents are justifiably concerned about the way violence is portrayed in the media. And impressionable young children are apt to mimic their heroes. I think this particular book may be a controversial addition to your storytime program, and therefore I feel you as the teacher need to be forewarned.

Would I read it to my own children? Yes. Maybe it's nostalgia for my own childhood. Maybe it's the sure knowledge that this book didn't damage ME or make me turn to violence. As I said, this was MY FAVORITE children's book.

I would never recommend that any person ban a book. But I recommend you read this book for yourself before you share it in a classroom setting.

Book Themes

  • Monsters
  • Facing fears
  • Mothers
  • Love
  • Bravery
  • Courage
  • Adversity
  • Fighting



Using this Book as a Read-Aloud Selection


I would think about a younger audience's reaction to the monster in the story. Is he too frightening for a 2-year old? Mine wouldn't like the Whatzit at all! Not recommended for this younger age group. Was your child frightened by the pictures in Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are? This may be a good measure for you.


This fantasy story is an appealing read-aloud for the older preschool crowd. Each of the characters have distinctive parts, which makes reading with "voices" a very appealing way to present this book.

Early Elementary Ages

This age group is ready for some critical thinking about the story. Questions you might explore in a reading with this age group: How would you describe Harry at the beginning of the book? What about the end? What changed? What are you afraid of?

Lesson Planning Ideas

Harry and the Terrible Whatzit lends itself to a monster-themed presentation. This is a good way to do a Halloween-related storytime without focusing on the holiday, which is not celebrated in some communities.

Music and Movement

Begin your story hour with your favorite song. In a once-a-week classroom setting, such as a library story hour, It is a good idea to sing the same song for at least a month, so that children have a chance to learn the words and actions. Some suggestions include:

  • If You're Happy and You Know It (Clap Your Hands)
  • Do Your Ears Hang Low?
  • Itsy-Bitsy Spider
  • More monster songs at the PreschoolEducation website.

Play a Circle Game

  • Boy, Girl, Monster. In this modification of the traditional duck, duck, goose game, the child who is selected to be it gets to pretend to be a monster while trying to catch the person who is trying to get into an empty seat. Be prepared for some screaming and squealing!


Say this rhyme to the children, and have them follow along:

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Reach up high (reach arms up in the air)

touch the sky

Now reach down (reach down and touch the ground)

without a sound

sit on your seat (sit on the ground or in a chair)

don't make a peep!

Shhh! (Whisper this part, with finger to lips)

My hands are fast asleep!


Tell the children you are going to read a story about a monster and a boy named Harry today. Show the children the front cover. Read each of the words of the title. If your children are pre-literate, ask them what letter of the alphabet "Harry" begins with. Point to the letter "H" in Harry's name. Do this with the word "Whatzit".

Flip the book over and show the children the back cover. Ask them to look at the monster. Does he look scary or afraid? What about the boy? Is he afraid or brave?

Read through the story. At the end, when Harry find's his mother's glasses, ask the children where they think she is.

Finish reading the book.


Choose one of these activiies, as approprate for your age group.

Costume Parade

If you are reading this book as part of a Halloween theme, you might consider having a costume parade. Many parents of preschoolers bringing their children in costume. Have the children march around the library, classroom, or preschool. This is a lot of fun.

Monster Draw

This idea was shared on the AtoZTeacherStuff blog site: Read the story once to the children without showing them the pictures. Ask the children to listen for describing words, then draw a picture of the Whatzit. You may need to read the story twice. This idea is probably more appropriate in a 6 and up age group.

Make a Monster

Give children wiggle eyes, yarn, markers, buttons, and other materials to make their own monster face. Have the children give the monster its own name.

More Children's Books About Monsters and Facing Fears

  • There's a Nightmare In My Closet by Mercer Mayer
  • There's an Alligator Under my Bed by Mercer Mayer
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Edward R Emberle


Kim on July 22, 2008:

I too fell in love with this book as a young child. It helped me overcome my fear of the dark and scary monsters lurking in the basement. Over the years I have quoted the book with my family and just recently got my hands on my very own copy. A beloved book with a message of courage for all ages!

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