Monsters under the bed? Ghosts in the hallway? A looming feeling of anxiety or fear?
Two of these things are (probably) fictional. The third is something that many of us, especially children, often deal with.
I am morbidly afraid of falling.
As a kid I would have recurring nightmares: falling out of trees, falling off ledges, falling into pits. As a child, I actually did fall, tumbling from an enormously high slide (the kind they would never allow in modern parks), and breaking my arm.
Falling is just not my thing.
So, I did a skydive.
I didn’t sleep the night before. I nearly lost my lunch in the plane. And the second we jumped, I flailed like a windmill, waving my hands in a wild search for something to hang on to. I did not make the beautiful swan shape you are supposed to, not until my instructor forcibly grabbed my hands. Then, after a few seconds of terror, I realised I quite liked falling from the sky.
I don’t think I’ll skydive again, but if I was ever in some James Bond aeroplane movie and needed to save the day, I know I could.
I think scary books are like that.
Kids who are afraid of something — anything — can face their fears in the pages of a scary book. They can dare themselves to keep reading. To confront a monster, tackle a demon, jump from a plane… and all from the safety of their couch.
This vicarious experiencing is why I love (and write) scary books.
I’m not talking full-blown horror.
I’m talking gentle, spine-tingling, pulse-racing fear. The kind of read that makes your heart beat faster but doesn’t leave you with nightmares. The kind of read that leave kids feeling empowered and braver than before, ready to face their real-world fears thanks to some imaginary foes.
When I presented on this topic recently with Canadian author Mahtab Narsimhan, we showed this video from The Neverending Story. What do you think? Can you see yourself in Bastian? After reading a scary book, do you feel that you too could jump from a plane (or maybe ride a dragon?).