I generally like children’s picture books which tackle things that most people think children’s picture books shouldn’t deal with. I am thinking in particular here of the well deserved classic, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, and the excellent Black Dog by Levi Pinfold, one of which deals with the death of his son, and the other with what depression can do to a family.
Some Things Are Scary by Florence Parry Heide, was, I thought, going to be a book along these lines, something that could be used to help children in difficult situations find a way to talk about things that are uncomfortable and which would make a great teaching tool for school, or a family, or for a counsellor to use.
I was wrong. Scrap that. It didn’t work for me. The truth is, it might be the best thing you’ve ever read on the subject of stuff that scares you, but for me it just didn’t work, and it didn’t really work when I tested it on my children either.
The main problem I found with the book was that it didn’t really make sense to me. Firstly it is just a long, long list of things that the author or subject of the book finds scary. It doesn’t try to explain why those things are scary. It doesn’t give any context for those things. It doesn’t try to help with the feelings that those things or occasions bring up. It has no narrative thread. It is not really a story. It is, at best, an illustrated list of stuff that some children will find scary some of the time.
I found the things on the list quite arbitrary. Some obvious things, like for example, illness and death, are not really covered. Other things are genuinely scary, like being lost. Other things are stupid, like being snatched up by a giant bird. Other things are not actually scary at all. At best one might find them mildly agitating or things which are inconvenient or embarrassing, but scary?
I’m not saying that there aren’t people in the world who don’t fret themselves to a flinder worrying about being snatched by a giant bird. I expect there are some, somewhere. I guess the author was perhaps trying to indicate that there are things you might be scared of that other people aren’t scared of, and just because it sounds silly, it’s o.k. and other people feel like that too. So that’s a good thing, except that because there is no narrative, you have to infer this, or figure it out, or find the time to have a discussion with the people you’re reading it with so that they understand this. Otherwise it’s just weird. Obviously it would be brilliant if you had the time to discuss all books you read with children in great depth, and a book like this is one you’d probably make time to talk about, so perhaps this is just me being particularly grumpy here.
The illustrations by Jules Feiffer do their best to add an air of menace to all the situations Parry Heide comes up with, and some of the illustrations are really disturbing. Others are just somewhat surreal.
I don’t really understand what enjoyment this book could give. We just found it massively frustrating. Rather than soliciting an open discussion about what we found scary, it made us spend time talking about how we didn’t really understand what the book was trying to do. None of us found it particularly scary because we were so busy figuring out what was going on, and none of us found that it took us into any discussion spaces that we felt the book should have opened up for us.
The best I can say is that if you share this with children it may be a good tool for engendering discussion on the things they find scary, and whether or not they agree with each other on whether the things in the book are scary. It might facilitate interesting discussion. It didn’t with my children I’m afraid.