Written by Emily Jenkins, Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015
Dad says I should make a list of everything that frightens me.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy shares his list of scary things with his dogs.
One of the boy’s dogs asks him what’s on his list of scary things and the boy is reluctant to tell, because it’s too scary. The dog (a bull terrier) insists that he’s brave enough, so the boy tells him the first item – monsters. The next item is ghosts and now, the boy and his dog are joined by his other dog, a pug. The bull terrier dispels any concerns over ghosts, then witches and finally trolls. Then the list turns to more real world things, like the boy’s bratty cousin Jemima, the bossy crossing guard at school, big dogs, swimming pools, sharks and, naturally, the dark. Finally, he’s named something that the bull terrier agrees is scary. But the boy shows both dogs how you can just turn on the light and the dogs thank him for being brave.
The subject of fear can be a touchy one, because it’s often a little irrational and skittish kids can have a tough time when they fear so many different things. Author Emily Jenkins takes the issue of fear and puts a comic spin on it. The main character here is afraid of a lot of things but you can see that talking it out with his dogs (after clearly talking about it already with his father) makes a difference and allows him to see that some of the things he fears aren’t even real. He also sees that he isn’t powerless over the ones that are real. His dogs play off of each other well, with the bull terrier showing some false bravado and the pug showing some unflappability in the dark.
Hyewon Yum’s illustrations are fun and whimsical, with a lot of funny details. Of course, I love that there’s a pug in this book and she is drawn so adorably, with the classic pug forehead wrinkles that give them a perpetually worried or mad look. The scary things included in the boy’s list are presented as just the right amount of spooky to address the subject without being so scary that they will bother young readers. In the end, when the boy says that he’s done with his list, I feel like he’s also saying that he is done with being scared, which is empowering. I’d call this a good book for Halloween season.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there are plenty of things to be afraid of in this world, but also plenty of ways to be brave about them.