Thursday, 4 October 2012

What's scary?

Here is a list of the things that have frightened my children over the years.

Things which have frightened Bill:
age 1. Balloons and the threat of them bursting unexpectedly. Parties became problematic briefly.
age 2. The part of The Wiggles Big Red Car DVD where Captain Feathersword gets a black face from bending over the exhaust pipe and it backfiring unexpectedly.
age 3 onwards The part of The (seminal sequel obviously) Jungle Book 2 where Mowgli is told off by his adoptive father for venturing into the jungle without permission.
The very minor character the 'lady artist' from Mairi Hedderwick's Katie Morag stories, following her unregulated appearance in a fevered nightmare which is still much talked of.
The forgetting of soldier doll 'Clever Bill' from the suitcase and his weeping on the steps of Emily's house in William Nicholson's lovely book of the same name (which I would review here if not for it's very OOP-ness)
The Bad Baby forgetting to say please in Raymond Briggs' 'The Elephant and the Bad Baby'.
The lack of a necessary 3p in Shirley Hughes' 'Dogger'.
The bit in Toy Story 3 where Buzz is reset to factory settings.
now. All of the above, apart from the balloons and the Wiggles, and in addition Doctor Who which he would like to watch but seems to always end up moving into the kitchen halfway through; 'Are you okay Bill?' 'I just need to do something for a bit in here Mum...Has it finished yet? Are they alright? What's happening?'

Fundamentally he hates transgressions, good people doing something bad and anybody being told off. This makes him quite an easy child to be the parent of but not exactly an alpha male risk taker. I don't think he will ever be a successful candidate on 'The Apprentice'. Luckily his aspirations run more to dominance in 'The Great British Bake Off' anyway.
It does mean that there are some picture books that simply cannot be read in his hearing. He finds them too upsetting. Hence the fact that the other night I was able to read him the final battle against Smaug the dragon from 'The Hobbit' but he exited the room when Eddie chose 'Dogger'. Have to say I'm with Bill, I know which writer puts me more effectively through the emotional wringer.

Things which have frightened Eddie:

age 2. The opening credit sequence of doors opening and shutting from 'Monsters Inc.'
age 4. The lion sticker on his cupboard door which had been there for two years and I never knew he was frightened of until the time Bill moved out of his bedroom and then he stopped being able to go to sleep in case it attacked him now his brother was no longer available for it to eat first....
now. sleep. Not exactly scared of it but he sets out to defeat it every night in a bare knuckle tussle til dawn.

That's about it. He's made of pretty stout stuff.

The point of this is that being scared is a strange thing. The things one finds genuinely terrifying are often so specific as to be uncategorisable. I think I can safely say Bill is the Only Person in the World scared of that lady artist picture. I can remember the terror of lying awake in the early morning listening out for the menacing  rumble and clank of the milk float arriving. I am also not a big fan of ponds full of ornamental Koi carp (mouthing mouths at the surface- shudder). Given that most of us are scared of something it has always provided hugely fertile territory for children's authors and illustrators but, precisely because of the uniqueness of fear, success is not always guaranteed. I can remember helping out in Bill's class in Reception and the teacher asked the class what they were scared of. Lots of answers were proffered cheerfully; 'Vampires!', 'Monsters!', 'Spiders!' 'Witches!' but I'd hazard a guess that no-one actually revealed what they were really scared of, only what they'd been taught they should be. Bill certainly didn't say a Scottish island immigrant who gets given the wrong paint brushes and I didn't say something terrible happening to my children (which is really all that frightens any parent I guess).

So, books that can confront and provide generic comfort to the specific, that can be properly extrapolated from is what we are after. Over the next few posts I'll try to find some that might do just that (just in time for the distinctly non-frightening Halloween). What are your suggestions? What's scary to you?




  1. Oh, so very true! MG will collapse into tears at the wicked stepmothers in fairy tales (we're unable to watch Disney's Snow White) but has happily been watching Doctor Who since birth with not a single worry (apart from one episode which she's now happy with). Now she's started on things like spiders but her real fears are to be left alone and lost, not that she's ever really verbalised it but her reactions hint at that... DG is afraid of being told off, little else seems to worry her - I've been reading Tony DiTerlizzi's The Spider and The Fly to her all week at least twice a day on request.

  2. So, my very brave son can watch any of the six Star Wars films, even the bit I find awful when Anakin is burned and turns into Darth Vader. but he was scared for WEEKS when Bitzer the dog in Shaun the Sheep fell into the pond and got covered in mud, like a swamp creature. He was convinced pond dwellers exist and would get him in the night. Personally, I remember seeing someone spring out of a trapdoor during a pantomime when I was quite young, and freaking out about possible trapdoors everywhere. Yikes.