Everyone has their own notion of what a picture book is. Lots of illustrations, lots of color. And, of course, lots of smiling happy kids reading (usually in front of a fireplace on a snowy winter afternoon, drinking hot chocolate while the chocolate lab snores…ok, maybe that’s just me).
Scary and creepy? Not so much.
But, as today is Halloween, it’s time to look at the darker side of the picture book. Amazon has 369 results for ‘scary picture book’ with 35 of them rated for ages 0-2. Yes, 0-2! Another 169 are for ages 3-5. Picture books! Scary ones! Now, of course, the scares aren’t quite what you’ll find for an older reader but everything from monsters (THE MONSTORE, for example…with a tip of the blogging cap to my host, Tara Lazar) to ghosts (A VERY SCARY GHOST STORY) and even mummies (Yes, mummies: WHERE’S MY MUMMY?) have been appearing in picture books for decades now and it’s long past time to appreciate the scary and creepy!
Hopefully no one is now picturing Twilight For Toddlers (I’d trademark that but…no) but there is, indeed, a market for picture books that may not be as light and fluffy as the rest. With 30 days in the upcoming PiBoIdMo, you might want to spend a day or two brainstorming towards the darker end of the spectrum. The goal of the creepier picture books obviously isn’t to scare a child, but to introduce them to the shadows in a fun, friendly way, making the frightening familiar and, therefore, safe.
Spend a day of PiBoIdMo remembering your own childhood, those nights when the last thing you did at night was to ask your mom or dad to leave the hall light on, or to lay down with you for a moment or two, or to look in the closet or under the bed in a ritual game to drive away the monsters. Those are memories that generations share, we all were children once, wanting that light on…and, as we read to our own children, we share those moments with them so that they’ll have similar memories.
Writing a scary or creepy picture book for children is much like that hall light, scaring away the monsters under the bed or the ghosts in the attic or the witch in the closet with pictures and words. For the next 30 days, as you try to generate ideas for PiBoIdMo, don’t be afraid of the shadows, instead use them to create puppets on the walls of your imagination…the world needs more scary and creepy picture books.
No sparkly vampires, please. Well, actually, now that I think about it…
He has served on the Executive Committee of the Boston and New Orleans chapters of Mensa as the Editor of their monthly newsletters and was also a Judge for the 2006 Savannah Children’s Book Festival Young Writer’s Contest. He is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Horror Writers Association and The Authors Guild and is represented by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. His debut novel, HENRY FRANKS, was published by Flux in September 2012.
Peter lives in Chapel Hill, NC with his wife Anna and their three sons: André Logan, Joshua Kyle and Adin Jeremy.