Fright Lite

By Nick Bruel

VAMPENGUIN
Written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

BOO STEW
Written by Donna L. Washington
Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler

THERE’S A GHOST IN THIS HOUSE
Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

POULTRYGEIST
Written by Eric Geron
Illustrated by Pete Oswald

When I was very young, I used to lie in bed at night staring at dust particles floating in the moonlight, contemplating that they might be tiny spirits who’d come to visit me. This was, perhaps, an eerie pastime for a child. But I didn’t feel frightened. I felt comforted because I imagined that the spirits were there to keep me company. I was lonely.

Childhood is all about imagination, but imagination is a two-way street. On the one hand, it can manufacture our deepest fears. On the other, it can grant us the skill set we need to confront our insecurities — including fear. It’s a tenuous balance that children’s literature has been exploring since its earliest days. The tales of the Brothers Grimm are a veritable smorgasbord of human atrocities. Alice walks twice through some of the greatest nightmare scenarios ever put to paper. “The Tin Woodman of Oz” contains one of the most nonchalantly horrific scenes in all literature: Its title character engages in a heated argument on the nature of love with his original head, which is on a shelf in a cupboard.

Pretty gruesome stuff, and yet all of it embraced by children for centuries. It’s not so much that children long to be frightened as that they yearn to confront what’s frightening, if only to develop the skills to cope.

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