By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
“Eight more days ‘til Halloween, Halloween . . .” OK, maybe not the most appropriate way to lead into a blog about scary-but-not-too-scary creatures who live in children’s books, by invoking a jingle used in the classic horror film “Halloween,” starring the fabulous future kid-lit author Jamie Lee Curtis, but with that tie-in, how could I not?
The Wild Things
First in our no-particular-order list of creepy creatures: the Wild Things inhabiting the island where Max sailed his private boat in and out of weeks and almost over a year in Maurice Sendak’s fabulous classic Where The Wild Things Are. Being the King of all Wild Things was a blast for a while, what with having no homework, no bedtime, and no rules, but Max became terribly lonely “and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” So he abdicated his throne and sailed back into the night of his very own room, to find his still-hot supper waiting for him. The lesson here, in my opinion? Those who truly love you will forgive your occasional monstrous behavior, and maybe even make you a grilled cheese sandwich.
“You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch/Your heart’s an empty hole/Your brain is full of spiders/You have garlic in your soul.” Hence, the next monster in our Monster Mash-Up, that grouchy green grump who lives on Mount Crumpit. Yes, friends and fiends, the antagonist-turned-protagonist of Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is next in the roster of scary-not-scary monsters. Let us ponder for a moment the classic literary juxtaposition of Good vs. Evil. After a busy night of animal abuse, cosplay, and totally highjacking all the boxes and bags and the last can of Who-Hash from Whoville, yet waking up to the sound of Cindy Lou Who and all her friends and relatives singing and celebrating anyway, the Grinch has an epiphany. “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” The Grinch’s heart “grew three sizes that day,” making him not so monstrous after all.
I implied at the beginning of this article that the monsters listed here wouldn’t be too ghastly. Darling Reader, I lied. You should now take the opportunity to fortify yourself with some chocolate before proceeding onward, because the Dementors from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (and subsequent books in the series) are making their sinister presence known in our melange of monsters. According to Professor Remus Lupin, “Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself – soulless and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.” According to the website Pottermore.com (and if you don’t know about this marvelous site, you must visit as soon as you finish reading this delightful and not frightful blog), Dementors are the true scary beasties of the mystical realm. Oh, it is also imperative to note that Dementors cannot be destroyed, but only driven away temporarily by using the Patronus Charm.
Yikes. Okay. Let’s flee the darkness of the Dementors and continue onward in our odyssey of oddities. Do you know the gruffalo? No? Oh! The Gruffalo is a children’s book written by Julia Donaldson that was inspired by a Chinese folk tale in which a fox borrows the terror of a tiger. In Donaldson’s story, a mouse is taking a walk in the woods and encounters several creatures—a fox, an owl, and a snake– who would like to make a meal out of him. The clever mouse declines the “invitations” to their homes by telling them that he already has lunch plans with his friend the gruffalo, who is a monster-like hybrid of half grizzly bear and half buffalo, whose favorite snack happens to be whichever animal that the mouse is trying to evade. Terrified by the description of the fictional beast, each animal flees. Mousie is so proud of himself, and taunts them: “Silly old fox/owl/snake, doesn’t he know? There’s no such thing as a gruffalo!” But here comes the plot twist! The mouse is shocked to encounter a real gruffalo, who threatens to eat him. Again, Mousie’s cunning saves the day. The mouse tells the gruffalo that he is the scariest monster in the forest, and proves it by leading the gruffalo past each creature that menaced him earlier, causing them to run away again when they see them walking together. The gruffalo is increasingly impressed by this, and is apparently clueless that *he* is the scary one, so the sly mouse further presses it to his advantage by threatening to eat the gruffalo, who then hightails it into the forest. Personally, I find this to be an excellent instructional tale for those among us who are physically diminutive (I’m 5’2”, Darling Reader) but make up for it in confidence.
So there you have it, Darling Reader, some charming-and not-alarming (well, with the exception of those foul Dementors) monsters who inhabit the pages of children’s books, and now your own imagination. Have a frighteningly good Fall, and don’t be afraid to keep exploring the vast forest of literature that is available to you at WCPL. Happy reading–
***The opinions and viewpoints expressed here are, as always, solely a product of the sometimes-disturbing contents of the author’s head and are in no way representative of the employees of WCPL, their families, or their Halloween-costumed housepets. The author also wishes it to be known that while the nickname “Scary Stacy” was bestowed upon her by some sorority sisters in college, she really is trying to mellow into a kinder, gentler sort of modern monster.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Assistant Librarian
‘Tis the season—for reading! Here is a non-comprehensive, totally subjective, but thoroughly festive list of Christmas books for children. In no particular order:
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg: This “new classic” and Caldecott Medal winner has amazing illustrations and a sweet, inspiring story about a boy’s Christmas Eve journey with Santa Claus and other children to the North Pole. (The page with the wolves is my favorite.)
How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss: “Maybe Christmas perhaps . . . means a little bit more.” Join The Grinch on his night of marauding and morning of soul searching when he learns that Christmas came to Whoville even without the boxes and bags.
Olive, The Other Reindeer by J.otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh: Colorful, whimsical artwork combines with a hilarious storyline about Olive the Dog for a fun holiday book that is sure to make anyone’s Christmas a little merrier.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: In October of 1843, Charles Dickens was giving new meaning to the term “starving artist.” Deep in debt and under huge obligations to his publisher, Dickens began crafting what would become the quintessential Christmas story, and creating one of the most memorable and enduring characters in English literature in Ebenezer Scrooge.
Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera: Is Sophie’s eccentric great-aunt Auntie Claus just another weird New Yorker, or is there something else going on there? Snuggle up and accompany Sophie on her yuletide adventure. (There are also some fun sequels!)
Christmas In The Barn by Margaret Wise Brown: There are two editions of this lovely interpretation of The Nativity; the original was published in 1952 and alternated pages in color and black-and-white, similar to Brown’s classic Goodnight Moon. The 2007 edition keeps the simple, beautiful original text but features all new illustrations in full color.
The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett: Teeka, a young Arctic girl living “in the shadow of Santa’s Winterfarm,” has been tasked with getting Santa’s reindeer ready to fly on Christmas Eve. The creatures are not responsive to Teeka’s tactics of yelling and bossing. She realizes that to prevent the annual sleigh ride across the skies from being a disaster, she is going to have to come up with some new motivational methods for Bramble, Heather, Windswept, Lichen, Snowball, Crag, Twilight, and Tundra.
The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg: A mysterious stranger rides into a small prairie town one cold November night. (No, it isn’t Clint Eastwood.) The stranger’s identity is revealed to a young girl named Lucy, and he tells her of the legend of the candy cane and provides the answer to the town’s dreams. Will Lucy in turn share her newfound knowledge?
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson: The horrible Herdman horde is a lying, cheating, stealing, fighting, smoking, cussing bunch of social outlaws. When they decide to commandeer the annual Nativity program at the local church, the congregation is caught completely flat-footed. However, the result is one of the most unorthodox—and hilarious—Christmas pageants ever.
Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco: Life is no sleigh ride for foster child Welcome Comfort at any time, but especially around Christmas, with no family or friends, no presents, and no Santa Claus. But when Welcome makes a new friend in the school custodian Mr. Hamp, his fortune just may be changing.
Happy holidays, and happy reading!