Books About Childhood Fears: A Guest Piece by Angie Morgan
Before I start, I want to stress that I am not qualified in any way to talk about childhood fears and worries – in as much as I have no degrees in Psychology and I am not a professional counsellor. My only qualification is that I have dealt with various fears that my children experienced growing up and to which I always reacted by winging it and thinking on my feet – which is what most of us do, with a variety of outcomes – some good and some not so good!
So when the idea popped into my head one day of writing and illustrating a story involving a small boy who collects fears by writing a list that grows longer and longer until the list becomes so big that it stops him playing with his friends, I found out that that there is a world of things for children to be scared of – but fortunately very little of what they are scared of will actually harm them. When I did the research for my book, which turned out to be Small Stanley’s BIG List of Scary Stuff, the list of common childhood fears was long and quite unsurprising. The overall top ten are: The dark, monsters, ghosts, creepy crawlies, loud unexpected noises, storms, teachers being cross, dentists, injections, being lost and losing parents.
Number one - the dark - is an irrational fear for most children because, as we grownups know a room is still the same room whether or not there is a light on. What is scary is NOT BEING ABLE TO SEE – so shapes that are comfortingly recognisable in daylight suddenly take on a sinister appearance. A book which deals with this perfectly is ‘Can’t you Sleep, Little Bear?’ by Martin Waddell with illustrations by Barbara Firth. This is a near perfect book which was a great favourite in my family and deals with the fear of the dark, but setting it in a cosy bearcave with shadows dancing on the walls. It also highlights every parents’ feelings when their child won’t go to sleep and all they want to do is rest and read a book, thereby creating the perfect story which appeals to both parents and children alike!
Most of the things that children are scared of are not the same as the things that their parents are scared of on their behalf. Stranger danger doesn’t appear in the list but teachers being cross does, so we can deduce that children are usually fearful of the small things that impinge directly on them – because bigger things, like global warming or nuclear armageddon are thankfully beyond their comprehension.
‘The Monster Bed’ – Written by Jeanne Willis and Illustrated by Susan Varley deals with the perennial fear of monsters lurking beneath the bed. If a child has a bed that has space underneath (usually filled with slippers, fluff and dead woodlice) it is perfectly understandable that they would imagine that scary monsters would creep underneath at night. Who doesn’t recall this fear? I know I do. In this book Jeanne Willis turns the whole idea upside down by making the protagonist a monster called Dennis who is scared of finding a human under his bed. Genius.
Another book written and illustrated by Susan Varley that helped my children deal with the death of their much-loved grandma is ‘Badger’s Parting Gifts’. Fear of death and of people you love disappearing forever is a massive cause of anxiety in children, and for families like ours who don’t believe in a god or heaven it provides a comforting way to both remember and say goodbye. It is hard enough for grownups to come to terms with the idea of never seeing someone again so grieving is another fear which all children will encounter at some time in their lives – and this book has never been bettered in my mind.
‘Ruby’s Worry’ by Tom Percival is an inspired book which illustrates simply how a small worry can grow out of control unless you talk about it. The illustrations work in parallel with the narrative in making the colour gradually disappear from the pages in Ruby’s world as her worry gets bigger and bigger until she finally meets another child who has a worry too, and the pages are alight with rainbows and happy colours as they both learn that talking and sharing a worry is the best way to deal with it.
‘The Whatifs’ is written by Emily Kilgore and Illustrated by Zoe Persico. It deals with the familiar nagging negative doubts that we all carry around with us and which the protagonist Cora carries around with her. ‘What if her dog runs away?’ ‘What if any number of awful things happen?’ The Whatifs are delightfully illustrated as small colourful gremlins that change to friendly imp type creatures as through a supportive friend she learns to realise that Whatifs can be good and positive instead of negative, and she learns to imagine what if something good happens instead of something bad.
Small Stanley’s Big List of Scary Stuff will be published 20th April 2023 by Otter Barry Books