The Dark is going to get a lot of attention in the coming weeks. That's because it's written by Lemony Snicket (of A Series of Unfortunate Events fame) and illustrated by Jon Klassen (who just won the Caldecott for This Is Not My Hat). The Dark also fits into a well-established niche in children's books: books to help kids to deal with something. In this case, that something is fear of the dark. I am personally quite suspicious of the "books to help kids deal with something" genre. So many of these stray into didactic territory. Fortunately, I don't think that either Snicket or Klassen could be didactic if he tried. As a result, The Dark is a winner.
The Dark is about a young boy named Laszlo who is afraid of the dark. He views "the dark" as a vaguely menacing thing that lives in his basement during the day, only spreading throughout the house at night. Laszlo keeps a flashlight nearby at all times. Naturally, he sleeps with a glowing night light. But when his night light burns out one night, Laszlo must face his fear head-on. Well, sort of head-on, anyway. Snicket continues the device of treating "the dark" as an entity, lending a fantasy quality to the story. The suspense of Laszlo's encounter with the dark will keep kids reading. And the mildly cryptic treatment of the means by which Laszlo overcomes his fears will keep them from feeling manipulated.
Klassen's illustrations are, as usual, brilliant. While somewhat spare (hardly any furniture is shown in Laszlo's house, for example), and with a limited color palette, they do a fine job of conveying the size of a big creaky house as perceived by a small, scared person. Klassen shows a lot of old wooden flooring, and angled staircases.
Although this is a book about fear, the only thing that is scary in the images is the presence of the dark, rendered as pure black. Laszlo's night light, however, and his flashlight, stave off the dark admirably. And the scenes in which the night light burns in this room as he curls up beneath a patchwork quilt are coziness personified.
I especially love the subtlety of the book's final page, in which Laszlo plays with a couple of toys as the sun is setting. This picture mirrors a page early in the book. The only difference is the lack of a flashlight nearby. Laszlo has conquered his fear.
I recommend The Dark to fans of Snicket or Klassen, and to anyone with kids in the three to six or so age range who are battling with fears of the dark. My just three year old daughter adores it, and I think it's actually helping with her own fear of the dark. The Dark is going to be big. And it deserves it. I think that this is a book we'll hear about come award time.
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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