Kid fears are fascinating things. Interestingly, I don’t think there are enough books about them. Children in books do brave things, I suppose because if they didn’t many of the great plots of literature wouldn’t exist. Imagine if Lucy had run back out of the wardrobe in a panic! Children in real life often fear doing all kinds of things, both sensibly and completely irrationally. I think we need more books about childhood anxieties. However, here are a few picture books on the topic of fear.
What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss
This book is actually a story contained in The Sneeches, though apparently it’s also available as a standalone volume now. As a child, I found it ominously spooky. The main character keeps encountering a pair of pants with nobody inside them during nighttime outings with a very scary blue-gray color scheme. In the end, it turns out the pants were just as scared of him as he was of them, which is a very Dr. Seuss anti-xenophobic message.
Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Kevin Henkes has explored the world of childhood fears better than any other picture book author to my knowledge. In this book, young Wemberly is just a born worrier, about all sorts of things. It drives her poor parents nuts. Of course, Wemberly worries about her first day of kindergarten more than anything else. At the end of the story, Wemberly is still a worrier, but she has gotten through her day by making a friend. Henkes’s books Sheila Rae, the Brave and Owen also deal with fear or anxiety. Each one has well-developed characters for a picture book and I really appreciate that.
There’s an Alligator Under My Bed by Mercer Mayer
Like Kevin Henkes, Mercer Mayer has several titles about the childhood fears. Unlike Henkes, who has written works with individualistic (even quirky) kids dealing with unexpected fears, Mayer’s works about childhood fears are really about the stereotypical duo of bedtime fears: monsters and the dark. There are many books out there about these, but Mercer Mayer’s are the best, in my opinion. And I especially like this title about a creative solution to an under the bed monster. I also appreciate that the ending validates the fear while still conquering it. After all, the alligator was real!
Courage by Bernard Waber
This is a sweet picture book where examples of everyday courage shine through. It’s nice to see a book honor how much bravery it takes to go to bed without a night light. This is really how I try to affirm my kids, when they do brave things. Waber is also the author of the book Ira Sleeps Over, which is another book about fears. The main character worries he will be embarrassed by his teddy bear on his first sleepover.
Scaredy Squirrel by Melissa Watt
This is the first book in a series of several titles that have come out in the last few years. The illustrations are very simple, with the pen and ink Scaredy Squirrel appearing on a white background, like Little Pea or the original Olivia books. Scaredy Squirrel is a true agoraphobe. He does nothing but stay inside because he’s afraid of all kinds of possible dangers and even has a disaster kit. In the end, he is able to go out occasionally. I’m less sure about this book than the others I put on this list. I like that it shows how confining fears can become and how irrational they can be. On the other hand, with jokes about using antibiotic handwash and such a small change in Scaredy Squirrel’s behavior, I’m not really sure if the book realizes how irrational the fears are. One review I saw of this series referenced that it was targeting helicopter parents and that really rang true for me. I had a funny feeling that the message of the book didn’t have enough daring to it, as if Scaredy’s fears were subtly justified by the story. I’m curious to see some more of the books, but the local megabookstore only had the first one on hand.
Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
Finally, a lovely book about the common fear of thunderstorms. The grandmother in this story cooks up a cake to help her granddaughter overcome her fear. Patricia Polacco’s illustration style is very old fashioned. While the book came out in the 90’s, you’ll feel like it was from the 70’s. This isn’t my favorite title by her, but it certainly belongs on a list of good picture books about fear.