Fear Factor

There are some people who like to read
scary books. Then,  there is the next group, people who like to read in general and just roll with
it when a scary part comes along as they continue
on with the story.
And then there are those who, when something scary
(or maybe not even scary, maybe more like a small conflict) happens,
they just have to stop.
Chestnut and I were reading The Trumpet of the Swan. We'd been having a really good time with it. She just loved it. E.B. White is
such a bold writer, so unafraid to go out there with the magic, to
blend it with the world, to stretch as far as he wants. Louis the Swan
was at camp up in Ontario, playing bugle calls for camp Kookooskoos.
Chestnut and I were actually in a (momentarily) terrible situation, in
the emergency room, and reading this was more comforting than I can
really convey. And then we got to THAT PART.
Do you know what THAT PART is? It's when Louis realizes that he needs
to slit the webbing between his toes so he can use the trumpet's
That was the end of that. We just had to STOP.
Earlier that same day, in a box of books sent to me FREE from Scholastic, I got this:


it does make a difference, I think, to get a book free, and soon I will
take the time to write up some specific guidelines about books I get so
you know how biased and unbiased I am, but for the moment, just know
that I had a box of free books, and I dipped into this one.
It's about a girl who hates to read, because she never knows how a book
is going to end. And she's afraid they are going to end badly.
And then she finds one book, and it looks
good to her. She begins it then…uh oh, it starts to seem like the ending is going to be bad. And the whole book watches as she undergoes an all-too-believable internal struggle.
the thing: I really liked the book. It was sweet and serious and a bit
quirky, it spoke clearly of a very real-seeming kid with that
all-too-rarely-acknowledged reality that she has an interior life
her parents don't quite know about. I liked it, it was very touching. And it made me think, of course, of my dear Chestnut, who suffers through all these same struggles. But I am not certain: what would a kid think? 
Do they have enough self-awareness—or lack of it—to enjoy it?
I hope so. I plan to get Chestnut on it as soon as we can.
I don't know, because here's the thing: I 
can't quite believe this, but it's true. Last night, just a few nights after the
scary ER visit, and the specter of Louis's foot surgery, she announced, against all my past experience of her feelings about books, that she wanted to see to
see if she could manage The Trumpet of the Swan again.
And you know what? Louis is staying in the Ritz-Carlton now, eating watercress sandwiches. My favorite part. She's glad we kept going.

5 thoughts on “Fear Factor

  1. I absolutely adored The Trumpet of the Swan as a kid, and yet I have no memory of his slitting his webbing! I guess I was traumatized enough to black that part out right way. I have very vivid memories of the watercress sandwiches (which always sounded so yummy), the little boy walking with one foot precisely in front of the other, and the melodramatic father swan.
    Hope all is OK after the scary ER visit…


  2. So well-said. I have two of these sweet readers and am forever walking the balance of encouraging them on and not wanting to push their beautiful sesitivities. I will be looking for the scholastic book!


  3. Very interesting post! I am approaching this question as the parent of a toddler (2 1/4 years). He loves books and being read to, but some books are a little scarier. Like, in Mama Don’t Allow, the alligators want to eat the protagonist and his band. Or, in The Odd Egg, a large alligator goes SNAP at a bunch of birds. Sometimes the scary stuff goes over his head, sometimes he’s blase about it, sometimes he seems unnerved. Sometimes I underestimate his resilience (and I myself have always been oversensitive about scary stuff in books and movies! I was traumatized for ages by some of the Bellairs books) but I also don’t want to freak him out. I am curious whether it will be obvious when he is old enough to decide on his own what’s too scary, and am always interested in how other parents make decisions about helping their kids address scary scenes.


  4. Oh no! I, too, have a rather sensitive girl. She tends to obsess over the scary things, to the point of losing sleep. We are currently reading “Trumpet of the Swan,” and I had no idea there was such a potentially scary part coming up. Thanks for the warning! 🙂
    By the way, I truly enjoy your blog. I love reading kids’ books (sometimes more than grown-up books!) and appreciate your thoughtful posts about them.


  5. What a good question. I encountered it recently in a very small way, when we were reading a book of fairy tales that was mine when I was little. And it contained a completely un-PG’d version of “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.” And having grown up now with Disney’s versions of lots of stories and stories where I hear “I liked it because there was no bad guy,” I was a little nervous as the story got more and more gory. My son is very sensitive, doesn’t like blood or talk of dying, and here was the clever maid, pouring boiling oil over all the bad guys! But after we’d finished (and he was surprisingly un-fazed by the deaths), I was glad I hadn’t completely sanitized all his stories. The truth is, there are deaths and mean people and hard, scary decisions in life. And if I can get him to acknowledge that and think about it now, it will be a lot easier later.
    We’ve just started with the chapter books, and he loves the “Stuart Little” movie. I keep thinking I ought to seek out the newest good children’s books for them, but perhaps we ought to go back to the classics and read some good old EB White together.


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