Don’t be afraid of fear!
Published on: 11 October 2017 Author: Curtis Jobling
Fear is the emotion that gets all the bad press. Sure, you can have fiery, furious Anger, gleeful, happy-clappy Joy, weeping and wailing Sadness and disapproving Disgust, but for some reason Fear is the one that folk don't want to talk about, certainly not with their children. Some parents would rather pretend it wasn't there, cover their children in bubble wrap and keep that particular beast from the door. This is folly, and I'm going to try and explain why.
Childhood can be scary. Not in a monstrous sense, but certainly as a world into which children are taking tentative steps. For some children, the real world can be the place where there are genuine scares to contend with, where bad things happen. Where better to escape this misery, any misery, than within the pages of a good book?
When we think of traditional children's stories, Grimm's fairy tales often come to mind. These stories were written to scare children. These were cautionary tales, highlighting the dangers of disappearing into the woods, the risk of talking to strangers, and the perils and pitfalls of entering gingerbread houses, or any abode fashioned primarily of cake, candy or confectionery. Stay away from the dark places, for horror and hellish shenanigans await thee within.
The best way for children to experience fear is from the safety of a good book. Tasting terror from within the confines of a book provides the reader with a vicarious thrill, one which they're in complete control of. If a story proves scary... shut the book. If it's really scary, throw the book in the chest freezer in the garage! Horror, like any genre fiction, can get a child reading. The adrenaline-fuelled kick that a fright brings with it can fire a life-long love of literature.
When I was a child (and still now) I loved scary books. I would talk about what scared me with my friends and my family, with my parents and my teachers. My poor school librarian would get an earful from me. She was probably fed up of hearing about trolls and goblins and vampires and zombies. This is where books can help with fear, though: we can work through our fears, both fictional and real, through our love of reading. A shared love of a scary tale could be the springboard for the most skittish soul to conquering that fear.
R L Stine's much-copied, never-bettered Goosebumps series gave a series of firm nods and winks to the horror pantheon throughout its incredible 62 book run. Adam Gidwitz took the Grimm Brothers' sinister stories to anarchic new depths/heights with his fabulously funny Grimm trilogy. My own Max Helsing books, starting with Monster Hunter and The Beast of Bone Creek, have their roots firmly planted within the world of classic horror.
There are some wonderful writers producing terrific and terrifying works today. Jon Mayhew's gothic Mortlock will chill the blood, while in Chris Priestley's Mister Creecher, street urchin Billy befriends the monstrous titular character, as they hunt down the real villain of the tale... Victor Frankenstein! Want some funnies with your first frightening reads? Check out Tommy Donbavand's Scream Street and Barry Hutchison's Invisible Fiends. Teen reeds like Charlie Higson's The Enemy or Jonathan Maberry's brilliant Rot and Ruin series reanimated the literary zombie in dramatic fashion.
There are so many amazing, scary reads for kids out there: one of them could be the one that gets your child into reading. Remember: it's good to be scared.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to re-read Where The Wild Things Are – within throwing distance of the freezer, of course.
Max Helsing: Monster Hunter and Max Helsing & The Thirteenth Curse are out now.
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