"Monster on the Hill" by Rob Harrell (Top Shelf Productions)
In cartoonist Rob Harrell's world of 19th-century England, each village is both defended and terrorized by a giant monster, but Stoker-On-Avon has a problem worse than any other village. Its monster, named Rayburn, is a washout, spending more time napping in its cozy lair than doing anything remotely resembling traditional monster work.
That's when Dr. Wilkie enters the picture, urged by the town fathers to put his talents to getting their monster on track in exchange for forgiving his explosive experimental past. Teamed with Timothy, the wise-cracking newsboy, Wilkie enlists the aid of Rayburn's more horrific monster friend, and helps Rayburn rise to the challenge of the ultimate terror, The Murk.
Aimed at kids, Harrell's delivery is loose and frantic, as the self-loathing Rayburn is constantly being reminded of how horribly he fulfills the basics of being a dreaded monster. Paired with the wacky inventor character of Wilkie, Harrell is able to squeeze a lot of laughs and warmth out of the situation, as well as an admirable amount of monster on monster pounding. A fun and irreverent, but still somewhat gentle, monster tale.
"Odd Duck" by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon (First Second Books)
There are plenty of children's books about non-conformists, but "Odd Duck" takes a look at what happens when two of them get together.
Theodora is a very proper duck, to be sure, but her tastes run toward the unusual when you compare her to other ducks in town, as do her activities. She's happily resigned herself to a solitary life when a weird artist duck, Chad, moves in next door and challenges the limits of her tolerance.
What follows is the attempt by Theodora and Chad to find common ground -- easier to do, they find, in the solitude of winter. But can their egos come to terms with their own personal weirdness as much as they can the weirdness of each other?
Castellucci crafts a smart and funny story that is constantly hurling something new within the trope, while Varon continues to be one of the most charming illustrators around, imbuing her world and her characters with a level of expressive delight that infects the reader and just makes you want to dive into the pages.