Don’t Be Scared Books

There’s NO Such Thing as a Ghostie! by Cressida Cowell

This is a very English book, featuring a monarchy with Beefeaters and Ladies-in-waiting, and a child Queen who gets bored after Royal Tea so decides she wants to go looking for ghosties. (Do the English call suitcases ‘trunks’ though?)

Everyone in the castle tells her there’s no such thing as ghosties but I guess because she’s the Queen, they all go on the hunt. They hear all sorts of sounds which sound a bit like a ghostie, but it’s always something else (like the wind). There’s a fold-out centrefold which features an enormous illustration of a bat. This sends Sergeant Rock-Hard running back to his bed, because he’s obviously terrified of bats. (I am too, to be fair.)

The conclusion is that there’s no such thing as ghosties, but on the final page we see an illustration in which the Queen referees a game of soccer with a bunch of ghostlike figures in a candlelit hall of her castle. So, like many books which are reassuring by intent, there is some doubt left in the child’s mind. They might, just might, be right.

WHAT’S UNDER THE BED? BY JOE FENTON

This colour scheme is a limited palette of monochrome plus red and a little green. (It reminds me of Emily the Strange.) A boy wonders what’s under the bed. Eventually he plucks up courage to look, and finds it’s only his teddy. On the final page there is a story reversal, where we see a monster in bed with the boy underneath.

The colour scheme aims to frighten, which secure children tend to love, but there seems to be a rule that all must be well by the end of the book. (If it’s not a rule, I’m not sure parents would buy a book which frightens but fails to pacify.)

Joe Fenton is a concept artist, and his love of art comes through.

FRANK WAS A MONSTER WHO WANTED TO DANCE BY KEITH GRAVES

I suppose any story which features a likeable monster is effectively a ‘don’t-be-scared’ book. In this story, a monster has a passion for dancing, and takes his moves to the stage. When the audience twigs to the fact they’re watching a monster, they flee the theatre in terror. The monster doesn’t care. He just keeps on dancing.

ANIMALS SCARE ME STIFF BY BABETTE COLE

This book teaches children that animals are more scared of children than children are scared of them.

Tom is followed by a dog and gets scared that the dog will eat him. He encounters a number of animals as he walks along, and thinks of the horrible things that animals can do (bull tossing him over a fence, ants up his nose, etc). Eventually he is surrounded by all the scary animals and sinks to the ground. He doesn’t see the ants. He panics because the ants get into his trousers and he takes off his pants. The animals are scared of Tom’s bare bottom and run away. Next time he’ll know what to do – give them a brown eye. (There’s a picture of this on the final page, designed to elicit a laugh.)

JUMP, BABY! BY PENNY MATTHEWS

Many ‘don’t be scared’ books focus on fear of darkness or of something specific (like animals, above). This one is about a baby possum who is too scared to jump from tree to tree without the help of its mother, but the message is feels much wider than that: Don’t be scared to try new things when your mother urges you to do so.

THE MONSTER DIARIES BY LUCIANO SARACINO

This book is for older readers – maybe 8 years old – and is shelved with the middle grade fiction at our local library. The Federation of Fright sends a memo out to all the vampires, ghouls and witches to tell them they’re not being scary enough. Via their diaries, the reader learns about the daily lives of these creatures, which are both comical and ordinary in nature. Not one of the scary monsters wins the award – they’re all deemed useless.

TOM AND THE DRAGON BY JULIETTE MACIVER

A mother warns her son to stay away from a dragon that lives in a cave at the beach. This is a New Zealand story, and it reminds me of the stories about taniwha (mythical Maori monsters) that we read as children.

When the boy meets the dragon, he finds out that the dragon has been told not to play with little boys. They are both scared of each other. But in the end they are great friends.

JUMP OVER THE PUDDLE BY EMMA QUAY ILLUSTRATED BY ANNA WALKER

Three friends — animals — are next to a puddle in this minimalist picturebook in which the (female) sheep is too scared to jump over a puddle. The panda and the owl encourage her to jump over despite the fear. She falls into the puddle but it doesn’t hurt at all. This story will encourage young readers to examine their fears and consider what’s the worst that could happen.

Related

Is Goldilocks Really Too Scary For Modern Kids? from The Guardian

The School Library Journal review of The Dark by Lemony Snicket

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