What There Is Before There Is Anything There: A Scary Story by Liniers
When I became a dad I officially inherited all of the old children's books of my childhood from my parent's attic. If you've ever gotten your boxes of books out of your parent's attic, you know that it can be an incredibly enjoyable trip down nostalgia lane. And this is made all the more exciting knowing that you are about to share these stories with your own children.
While going through the stacks, I very quickly realized that the books I was most excited to rediscover were the ones that scared me as a kid. To be clear, I'm not talking about Stephen King here or even R. L. Stine yet. I'm talking specifically about picture books for children. I still vividly remembered a book where Bert and Ernie go see a scary ghost movie, compilations of spooky stories featuring Garfield, and just a dark picture of a "giant" in Bedtime for Frances that turns out to be laundry in a chair.
These stories stuck with me all this time because of the imagery. The pictures gave little me the chills and got my imagination pumping. That dang dark laundry in the chair got me every single time. I can look at the pictures to this day and still remember the feelings they evoked.
But truly scary picture books seem to be a rare breed these days. Very rarely do I come across anything that reminds me of the innocent chills from my childhood. Perhaps it's a risky proposition marketing scares towards a crowd predisposed to nightmares. It takes amazing talent to walk the line between truly eerie and still appropriate for young children. What There is Before There is Anything There: A Scary Story is exactly the children's book I was looking for to share with my kids, now 5 and 2.
Written and illustrated by Liniers, a cartoonist from Argentina, What There is Before There is Anything There: A Scary Story is a story about a child who is afraid of the dark, but perhaps for good reason. When it comes he has visitors. And holy smokes - these are the most original visitors anyone could possibly imagine. They’re truly the stuff of nightmares - but so perfectly random. Liniers is brilliant.
The story itself plays very well upon the common childhood fear of the unknown, and the equally-common response to seek the safety of mom and dad's bed. Mom and Dad, as mom and dads tend to do, blame it all on the child's overactive imagination. But, as children will no doubt enjoy noticing, Mom and Dad may not always be right.
The imagery created by Liniers' illustrations is definitely the highlight for me. The child's visitors somehow manage to be simultaneously adorable and terrifying. This allows it to be accessible to our 2-year-old (and decidedly not scary) but exponentially scarier as you age and your imagination grows and runs along with it. The tension also builds up very well to an excellent chance to use your best spooky voice for the title character as you read out loud.
I consider this amazing work of art to be the quintessential scared-of-bedtime book, and perhaps even the best scary picture book of all time. If you have a soft spot for being spooked as a kid, or if your little ones enjoy the adrenaline rush of a small fright, this one is a must-have. Because that rush is what makes it memorable.
And one day I like to imagine my grown-up kids will be beyond excited to rediscover this one tucked away in a box in the attic. Maybe they’ll be as excited as I was when I saw the cover for Mercer Mayer’s There’s a Nightmare In My Closet for the first time in two decades. And then they’ll bring it down and use it to scare their own little ones and stir up their imaginations.
If you want to scare your kids even more, make sure to check out our list of The Best Scary Picture Books for Kids.
Do your kids like scary books? Please let us know their favorites in the comments section.