Learning to embrace the creepy in children’s books

By Katelyn Schubert

October is just around the corner.

It’s almost as if the first day of school triggers something in all of us to suddenly crave cinnamon and pumpkin, wear bulky sweaters and start planning our Thanksgiving with friends and family. Even though it is technically still September for a few more days, I cannot deny the other autumn occasion that is in the front of everyone’s mind; Halloween.

Kids love Halloween. I would almost argue that more kids look forward to Halloween than they do their birthdays. I started to think what it was about this particular holiday that brings out so much creativity and joy in children. Is it the endless amount of free candy? The haunted houses? The getting to stay up late on a school night? I believe its obsession lies in the creativity and the creepiness, and at at the Library, this is something that you can find 365 days in the year.

I am surrounded by hundreds of children’s books each and every day and when this happens, you begin to learn certain patterns in what children like and gravitate to. What I have noticed is that kids like weird. Kids like strange and dark. Kids like suspense and unsung heroes. They like unimaginable places where parents don’t exist and talking animals reign. Let’s look at some examples.

One of the most popular picture book of all time is “Where the Wild Things Are” by the wonderful Maurice Sendak. Even if you haven’t read it, you’ve heard of it; that’s how much it has resonated with kids for decades. The story itself is simple: a little boy named Max is misbehaving and sent to bed without supper by his mother. His imagination then takes over and he sails on a boat to a far-off land where mystical giant beasts (or Wild Things) live. Once there, Max connects with these other wild things and eventually becomes their king. I must admit, writing down even the brief synopsis of this book makes it sound strange and creepy, but the truth is the book has many important messages and so much significance for children. Max is an angry child and Sendak leaves the reason why for our imaginations to figure out. Maybe Max’s mom and dad are going though a divorce, maybe he is getting picked on at school or maybe he is suffering from ADHD and looking for people to understand him. The point is, creepy and dark children’s books don’t have to dive deep into these explanations. They resonate with kids simply by making connections to their everyday lives.

Another author who almost always added elements of creepy in his novels was Roald Dahl. “The Twits” is about the ‘world’s worst people’. “The Witches” is about child-hating witches and even opens with the lines “This is not a fairy tale. This is about real witches.” In “Matilda”, her parents absolutely hate her and her school headmistress is borderline abusive and even in “The BFG”, not all the giants are exactly friendly. At the core of all of Dahl’s books are children who overcome obstacles and learn to embrace differences and challenges in people. Pretty awesome for books that are often categorized as ‘creepy’ right?

My point to this article is to let your children explore the dark, even sinister books and don’t jump the gun thinking books are too scary for them to understand or enjoy. Sometimes the greatest outlet and affiliation can come from books that we would least expect. With Halloween approaching, let your children embrace the holiday and more importantly, let them make their own decisions about what is creepy and what is not when it comes to what they read. Visit the Petawawa Public Library today for twisted tales, unexpected heroes and far-off lands!

Katelyn Schubert is the children and teen services co-ordinator at the Petawawa Public Library

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