Harry was certain there was something terrible lurking in the cellar, because it was “dark and damp and it smelled”.
But when his mother — upon ignoring his well-meaning warning — fails to return from the cellar, Harry bravely grabs a broom and gets down there to confront the “Whatzit”, a euphemism of sorts for the large, gruesome-looking creature he finds hiding behind the furnace.
While kid-triumphs-over-monster tales are apparently not uncommon, what makes this book stand out is the additional element of mystery and suspense, as well as the heartwarming raison d’etre for the protagonist’s sudden burst of courage — his love and concern for his mom (aww!).
A cross between Maurice Sendak’s and Mercer Mayer’s art, Dick Gackenbach’s old-school illustrations are also a real treat — I particularly liked how effectively he conveyed the fact that any monster’s perceived power is directly related to how much it is feared: as the boy’s courage grows, we see the Whatzit’s “scareability” literally diminish. The cheeky, unexpected ending is also perfect.