We are loving Dorothee de Monfreid’s Dark Night in our house at the moment. I have to admit I was tempted to censor a ‘scary’ book like this one, but Rowan’s adoration of it reminds me again how much kids can revel in stories about their fears. Some of the best stories in children’s literature have childhood fears at their centre – like Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are and many Roald Dahl books.
Dark Night begins with a single menacing line: “It was a dark night.” which immediately reminded me of a favourite of my childhood, Funnybones by Alan Ahlberg. (Stay tuned for a When We Were Little post…) On this dark night we find Felix and immediately emphathise with him – he is “very little and very scared”. Felix hears a noise and hides himself inside a hollow tree. It’s a wolf! But the adventures don’t stop there – the wolf is scared away by a second animal – a tiger! And then the tiger is scared away – by none other than… a crocodile!
De Monfreid is incredibly good at putting herself in the mind of a preschooler. The elements of this story are so appealing – Rowan’s top three scary animals are represented, and the story gets even better when Felix finds a door to a secret passage where he finds hot chocolate and a friendly bunny!
What I love most about this book is that without heavy handedness or a hint of moralising, it contains a beautiful message of empowerment. At the suggestion of his new friend the rabbit, Felix learns to conquer his fears in an unexpected way. In the words of School Library Journal: “the two small, peaceable beings turn the tables, not once, but twice on their terror-inspiring counterparts. A little cool-headedness, a dollop of ingenuity, and a big helping of friendship convert a hopeless situation into a gentle and downright funny triumph.”
Dorothee de Monfreid is a French author, and has published at least 12 books in France. So far she has one other book that has been translated and published in English, I’d Really Like to Eat a Child, which Rowan also loves. According to her bio, the subjects of her other books span cats, bunnies, elephants, stinky monsters, and cake. I can’t wait to read them all now – especially her series about Coco the elephant. Check out these illos of Coco who just wants to read quietly, while her friends all hassle her to find out the ending…