Last weekend, a mother asked me to help her find some books for her preschool daughter that might persuade her that all library books are not scary. She explained that for her daughter, any book where someone expressed fear, or there were surprises, or someone got angry, were all very stressful. Even beloved Mister Rogers was scary to this little girl on the days when he covered subjects like “What do you do with the mad that’s inside you?
I tackled the subject enthusiastically, but a few shelves of books later I realized just how challenging the problem was for her. Almost all picture books have an arc to them, and most of the time, the peak of the book would be stressful to a very sensitive child. Think of how many books you’ve read where baby duck wanders away from mama duck, or where the curious dog goes out exploring and gets into trouble! For most children, it’s a good, healthy way to have a little tension that then gets resolved at the end.
For this child, though, the stress of the library books became too much for her, and she began to refuse to read anything that came from the library. She was okay with her own books at home, because she knew them already. She knew they would come out happily, so she could bear the stressful middles. But library books are unknown. Beneath all those beautiful covers lurk lost, scared, worried, or angry characters!
Adult readers, I think, sometimes worry too much about kids finding a book scary. But some of us go the other direction and worry too little about it. I realized in looking for safe, sweet books that most of the books I love to use in storytime would send this child screaming from the room–anything by William Steig, say, or Lilly spending time in the Uncooperative Chair once again. So this gave me something to ponder, and also a good idea for a new bibliography.
Here are a couple I gave to the mom, if you ever need some happy, safe reading for yourself or for a child:
It sure isn’t easy, being a kid!