Tuesday 16 October 2012

Saying "Boo!" To Scary Things, by Pippa Goodhart

With Halloween just around the corner, and following on from Paeony’s post about picture books needing comforting endings, I thought I’d look at the way that picture books can de-scarify some of the terrors of young childhood.
We all know that stories have the power to scare. They scare us all through our lives, sometimes enjoyably, sometimes to teach us lessons, sometimes to bully us. But stories can also have the power to disarm the things that terrify us; to comfort us, and to adjust the power balance back in our favour.
The trick to disarming the scary is, I think, to make the scary thing very clearly fictional, and also funny.That way we know that the monster under the stairs or in the woods isn’t a real threat, but we can still enjoy a frisson of pretend terror.
Gruffalos Child Sitting 7 Inch Soft Toy
Where The Wild things Are Soft Toys (Moishe)
Think of those ‘terrible’and ‘wild’ monsters, the Gruffalo and the Wild Things. They are big. They have claws and horns and all sorts. But they are also goofy, and children know very well that they are never going to be a real threat. You don’t get cuddly toys made from something that’s truly scary!
Those monsters represent the fears in our real lives, and those real fears come in all sorts of different forms, brought about by personal circumstances and personalities. Facing the bully in the playground, facing the dark, facing our own limitations, and so on. Using monsters or ghosts to represent those fears leaves our interpretation of them open, to suit us all, as well as putting the issue at a comforting remove. How much more limited in therapeutic use would be a book that looked at a real child facing real fears about going up the stairs in the dark. And, besides, it wouldn’t be half as much fun!
The story arc to most scary picture book stories is simply one of building up tension and anticipation of a major scare, only to diffuse it in a funny way at the end.

Bedtime for MonstersI love Ed Vere’s Bedtime For Monsters. A monster (again with claws and horns, and licking his lips) is looking for a bedtime snack, and it seems as though that snack just might be YOU! The monster is coming closer and closer, his tummy rumbling louder and louder, and …. Actually all he wants is a goodnight kiss!

Three Little Ghosties
On a more Halloweeny front, my Three Little Ghosties don’t look terribly scary, but the three of them work as a pack, as bullies so often do. They boast about how they’ve bullied some ghoulses sitting in schoolsies learning spelling rulsies, and also some witches, sitting in ditches, lipsticking their lipses, and then an ogre as big as six treeses, sitting in the forest, picking at his fleases. Each of them boasts about the way they’ve sent these other traditionally scary characters running. Children start the book almost as part of the ghosty gang, enjoying the way the witches and ghouls and ogre are made to look silly when they’re scared. Children join-in with the predictable BOO that sends each victim off in terror. But then the ghosties turn their attention to scaring a child, possibly YOU! And suddenly the creeping and whispering and creeping is coming our way. Through the night the ghosties come closer and closer, in through the windows and into the bedroom … but this time the BOO comes from the child, and it’s the three little ghosties who are now the ones fleeing in terror, sucking their thumbsies and looking silly. We see them scolded by their mumsies who send them home to bed; no longer remotely scary.

So enjoy Halloween by using the scary to comfort!


kerry said...

Hello Pippa. I haven't read your 'Three Little Ghosties' but thanks for the post and description of it - the rhythm, the rhyme and the turn-around 'Boo!' at the end speaks to me.I'll certainly be looking out for it.

Moira Butterfield said...

Lovely post, Pippa. Your book sounds ideal for Halloween! I remember the feeling of delight I had as a child - glee would be the word, I think - when I had a book that I knew had scary bits but that I also knew had a positive ending. I could revel in the monsters (the wolf usually, I guess), knowing that they would get their comeuppance. When I read 'Where the Wild Things Are' to my children we would have great fun acting out the monsters having their parade and wild party,and suggesting that they could eat up the boy. Then we would always leave them and go back to the comfort of home.

Stroppy Author said...

Great post, Pippa - and it sounds a wonderful book! I'll look out for it.

Pippa Goodhart said...

'Glee' is exactly the right word, Moira! It's that playing with the scary things, but knowing that control of them is ultimately in your own hands because you can hurry or slow the book, or simply close it.

Pippa Goodhart said...

That's nice to .know - thank you, Kerry

Pippa Goodhart said...

Thanks, Stroppy!

Sue Purkiss said...

The ghosties sound great!

Paeony Lewis said...

Interesting, Pippa, and love that the child says BOO to the ghosties.
I'm rather fond of an old picture book called 'Mouse, Look Out!' (Waite/Burgin) that's full of mysterious shadows and at the end the mouse-hunting cat is scared by a dog.
From an adult stance I adore Emily Gravett's 'Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears', and I'd be intrigued to know what children make of such a sophisticated, stylized picture book.
Whilst for plain disturbing, there's 'Baby Pie' (MacRae/Ward). Too icky for this feeble adult, but some children probably adore it!
Have you ever come across any picture books that are simply too disturbing?
Happy Halloween!

Pippa Goodhart said...

Well, they THINK they are great, but they're actually rather pathetic little bullies ... but I hope they're fun!

Pippa Goodhart said...

It's a fine line, isn't it, and what some will enjoy others will find too much. I too, as an adult, love Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears, but I've not come across the other two. I'll look out for them. Thanks, Paeony!

Linda Strachan said...

I know what you mean, Paeony, about Baby Pie, and I was a little concerned when I heard what it was about but I love 'Baby Pie' and I think it works in the same way as those in the post above. The three little trolls, Oink, Boink and Moink discover that the baby they are looking for to put in their pie is scarier than they are. But what makes it work so well is also the rhythm and repetition,
'Can you sniff it? Can you Whiff if? Lick lips pat belly, My oh my!'
It comes often enough for the child to learn it and join in.

Your Three little Ghosties sounds lovely, Pippa.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Thanks, Linda. I must find a copy of Baby Pie. It sounds a goody!

Abie Longstaff said...

Great post. My kids love being scared and they really like the gruesome old stories like Struwwelpeter, which is full of really horrible tales! The original fairy tales were much more gory than their modern adaptations. Cinderella has the step-sisters chopping bits of their feet off to try to fit inside the glass slipper and, of course, the poor Little Mermaid never kisses her prince and becomes a bit of foam on the sea.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Strulwwelpeter scared me far too much for any kind of enjoyment .... and still does! I think that when things are too cruel that cruelty overrides any other thoughts, and the story loses the power to make you think. A bit like a really hot curry killing off the flavours, if that makes any kind of sense!

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Juliet Clare Bell said...

Thanks, Pippa. I'm working very very vaguely on something that will be mildly scary. This is encouraging me to get on with it!