In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Scary Parts

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Oh, I hope that they'll reprint the Michael Hague-illustrated The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I'll have to check out his Tolkien, too, when we get to that age.  I wasn't a huge Tolkien fan myself, though I did eventually read them all (and saw all the movies).  I remember getting stuck on the beginning of The Hobbit at least three times, as Tolkien went on and on about every detail of the entrance hallway, just before Bilbo Baggins left his house for the rest of the book.  But I know Lizzie loved the books; I remember visiting your house when she was in high school and marveling at the life-sized cutout of Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn propped up in the corner of her room.

So what is the right age to introduce your kids to books with scary bits?  After my last post, my good friend Cyd commented about her daughter Rebekah's strong reaction to the dog running away in Beverly Cleary's Ribsy, saying that she couldn't believe Eleanor (a month younger than Rebekah) was ready for Narnia.  This got me thinking about what does and doesn't scare Eleanor, and why.

My theory is that things like witches (which she knows are imaginary) and death (which she doesn't fully understand), are far less scary to Eleanor than things closer to home.  Rebekah really does have a wonderful dog of her own, so I can imagine that the thought of a dog getting lost and not being able to find his way home would be extremely frightening.  When we watched the movie Up with Eleanor, the moment which upset her most was when Carl, the old man, lost his house.  Eleanor burst into tears: "But where is he going to live?"  Out of all the frightening and sad things that had happened in the movie, this was the one she could relate to most.

We've read a number of fairy tales with Eleanor, and I've been surprised by her hardiness in the face of awful plot developments.  We have a gorgeous edition of Rapunzel illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman from the library right now, and of course I didn't pre-read it before we read it together, and I had forgotten how dark it is.  Rapunzel's parents have their baby taken from them by the witch, and never see her again; Rapunzel grows up with no contact with anyone but her witch-mother, and is locked away by her when she turns twelve (such interesting puberty-related issues there!); after the witch has discovered Rapunzel's relationship with the prince, she attacks him and he falls from the tower, landing on thorn bushes which poke his eyes and blind him.  Rough stuff.  When faced with this (or with the White Witch, or Aslan's death), Eleanor has taken to doing what she does during the scary parts of movies: she gets a blanket and hides in it.  She doesn't want me to stop reading, and in fact will say "I like the scary parts," but she wants to hide nonetheless, and will turn away even from a book, like Narnia, that doesn't have pictures on every page.  It's a measure of control, I suppose.

I'm trying to go along with where she seems to be, prepping her for some of the scary parts when it's something I've read beforehand (that's what we did with The Wizard of Oz, and with Narnia), and stopping when she wants to.  As in so many other aspects of life, we do our best to follow her lead and enjoy the surprises along the way.

Love, Annie

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