The Dark: Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen Made a Scary Picture Book
Picture books have the incredible power to teach our children about life. Not only do the words inside enrich our vocabulary, but they help us process the world around us. This can be incredibly useful in certain cases - like facing your fears. And reading about things that scare you while you know you are safe can be a very effective way to conquer that fear.
I’ve long been attracted to spooky books. In our son's bookshelf there is one shelf affectionately labeled "the daddy shelf." I take great pride in the daddy shelf. Not just any book can sneak its way in there. And Lemony Snicket's The Dark was the first book that earned its place on the shelf.
Jon Klassen illustrated The Dark, and the Snicket/Klassen combo is so good here it's unfair. Throughout my entire career as a dad, Jon Klassen has been my favorite illustrator by a long shot. And let’s just say The Dark is by no means the only book on the daddy shelf that Klassen has worked on. His project track record is so good, I've bought chapter books I've never heard of because a handful of his drawings are in them, and I've yet to be disappointed.
Lemony Snicket is obviously a very talented wordsmith. His ability to play with words and sentences lends itself well to a spooky book that thrives on building tension. The main character in The Dark is named Laszlo. That's a pretty good start, isn’t it? What a great name. I think it’s safe to say that all Laszlos I meet for the rest of my life will make me think of The Dark.
Laszlo is afraid of the dark, and if your child is afraid of the dark too, they can live vicariously through him. That’s what will make the experience spooky, but they can also empathize with the way he is feeling. That’s exactly how spooky books can help you conquer your fears. By providing a mirror of your feelings - your feelings are normalized. It’s remarkably comforting. It’s a very human instinct to want to know that others are going through the same thing. And it makes it so much easier to face.
As the story goes on, it turns out that Laszlo is actually a pretty brave kid. This bravery might actually be why I personally find the book to be so spooky. The dark talks to Laszlo in this book (I know, right?!) and he actually gets out of bed to go find where the voice is coming from. Being a passive bystander while crazy, brave Laszlo follows this voice is not easy.
The tension and the build-up and the eerie drawings are all just fantastic, you really must experience it. To truly give this book what it deserves you must read it out loud and develop your very best creepy voice for the dark.
When I read it to my kids, the dark whispers in a raspy voice. To help you imagine what this might be like, snippets of the dark's dialogue include "I want to show you something," "come closer," and "down here". And, just so you know, “down here” is referring to the basement. Eek!
Below you can see the great trailer made by the publisher - Little, Brown - and get a good feel for the atmosphere of The Dark. Deep down, I just hope that one day we can all be so lucky to have another Snicket/Klassen combo knock our socks off.
The Dark does a fantastic job at its primary mission - scaring me silly. But it can’t be underestimated how effective it is at delivering a few useful lessons to your kids - particularly if they’re trying to overcome their fears. Things are not always as they seem. There is comfort in that, and watching Laszlo experience that while you’re safe in your bed is a powerful way to absorb that lesson. Just because something is unfamiliar, it doesn’t mean it’s bad by default. In the end, everything has an important purpose. Even the dark.
If you like the sound of The Dark, make sure to check out this article as well:
The Top 13 Scary Picture Books for Kids
Have you read The Dark? Do you have any similar suggestions for spooky stories about facing your fears? Feel free to shout them out in the comments below!