While reading about scary things under the bed might not make the fears go away, Joe Fenton's newest, What's Under the Bed?, will give little scaredy-cats something to laugh at. When bespectacled Fred climbs into his bed with Ted, his stuffed bear, it's time to begin his nightly wonderings. "What's that noise? What's that sound? Is there something on the ground?" The black-and-white illustrations, at times punctuated with the imagined monster's colors, are oversized to the point of hilarity – especially the very big head, complete with little hairs. When Fred discovers the object of his fears, he can finally go to sleep . . . or maybe not.
Emily Gravett's new picture book, Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears, is a new twist on the genre. This humorous book is actually about the author's fears, and the pencil-carrying mouse "writing" the story is simply a foil. Starting with arachnophobia and moving to aichmophobia (knives, the kind the farmer's wife used), our little friend faces many fears, common and esoteric. Using found objects, chewed paper edges (thanks to Gravett's pet rat), a muted gray, red and beige palette, and an array of fabulous foldouts, Gravett's portrait of what would frighten a mouse (and a person) is just what the psychiatrist ordered. On each page, she encourages readers to record their own fears. The big reveal at the end will provide a welcome relief and spontaneous laughter.
Silhouettes, coupled with adorable pink-cheeked ghosties, tell Belgian Emmanuelle Eeckhout's amusing tale of misplaced fears with a cheeky touch in There's No Such Thing as Ghosts!. Armed with a butterfly net, a little child (nicely androgynous), ignores Mother's request to stay out of the house down the street because it's rumored to be haunted. "Haunted? There's no such thing as ghosts! But if there is . . . I'm going to catch one!" Our brave Everychild enters the house and finds nothing, but the young reader will see what the ghost chaser is missing on every page. Not scary at all, this little book (the smaller size is very appealing) allows the reader to look carefully at the illustrations, rich in white space and droll details, and discover all manner of hidden things. My favorite was seeing a lineup of ghosts waiting for the bathroom. Yellow, black and pink give the artwork a retro feel, but the story line is timeless.
Patrick Loehr's book about disgusting food, Mucumber McGee and Lunch Lady's Liver, is an amusing ode to unrecognizable cafeteria food. When Mucumber arrives late to lunch, he is treated to a "very special recipe" of Liver Cake. Told in rhymes, the story follows Mucumber, decked out in a suit with a bow tie, as he takes a bite of the cake that he fears might end his life. But, never fear, we learn that, "it won't taste as bad as it looks / Because lunch ladies are usually . . . very good cooks." A dark purple and black creepy tone adds to the fun. Serve it up the next time you are reading aloud to a group of children. They will get the joke, and might even try some new food the next time they go through the lunch line.
Finally, Emily Jenkins looks at a different kind of fear in The Little Bit Scary People. Part bibliotherapy and part kid's-eye-view, this offering will be welcomed by teachers and parents of children who are afraid of the people they meet every day: the skateboarder with an unusual haircut, the principal, the impatient music teacher, a classmate who talks to herself, and even the policeman. Using comforting first person, a redhead with a shy, observant temperament is able to conquer her fears by imagining all these "scary" people at home, with their children and loved ones, living their regular non – scary lives. Jenkins' book provides a nice introduction to the idea of empathy and imagination.