Picture Book Snob
Shadow Monsters and Shooting Stars
Afraid of the Dark written by Sarah Shaffi and Isabel Otter, illustrated by Lucy Farfort
This is a lovely new book which explores issues and experiences that can be challenging for young children.
Amy, her father and their dog, Pickle, move house, but their new place is strange. It doesn’t feel like home and when the lights go out at night, creepy sounds and shadows keep Amy awake. With the help of her dad, a kind librarian and some friendly next-door neighbours, Amy settles into her surroundings and the dark no longer scares her.
While we haven’t moved recently, we made some changes to the sleeping arrangements at home and certain members of the household were finding the transition tough. This story has definitely helped them to adjust, and they love reading it too. The first night I introduced my three and five-year-old to Afraid of the Dark, I had to read it three times in a row!
The text is simple and soothing, yet tackles complicated events and emotions. The story gently demonstrates that darkness does not have to be intimidating. It brilliantly captures how sinister familiar items can seem once the lights go out. The reader can see what is casting menacing shadows and making strange noises, and can understand that these are ordinary and benign objects, rather than anything monstrous.
Afraid of the Dark shows how dark places can sometimes be inviting, such as the den in Amy's neighbours' garden. The story also reveals how an absence of light can even be wonderful. Without darkness we wouldn't be able to appreciate a beautiful night sky and all its stars.
Lucy Farfort's illustrations have a soft and comforting quality, with dreamy watercolour washes throughout (and a stunning final spread that extends into the endpapers). It's a very starry book. Real stars shine in the sky and artificial ones used by Amy and her new friends as decorations. Magical stars appear in Amy's dreams and surround her whenever she is happy.
The library depicted is fabulous and a fitting reminder of the comfort that can be derived from books. Stars twinkle above Amy and her father as he reads to her, generated by the magic of storytelling. After her father makes up a story especially for her, Amy is finally able to overcome her fears.
There is lots of diversity; Amy and her father form a one-parent family unit and there are characters of different ethnicities. The story is written in the first person, from Amy's point of view, and convincingly evokes a child's perspective. The words and images complement each other perfectly to create a calming effect, with all the warmth and security of a cosy blanket.
Sarah Schaffi and Isabel Otter are children's book editors as well as authors, and the affinity they have for their audience is evident. Lucy Farfort won the inaugural FAB prize for illustration in 2017. Although this is the first children's book Lucy has worked on, it is clear from the images that she has an innate ability to connect with the very young.
Afraid of the Dark is an engaging story for children whether or not they have recently moved house or are frightened of the dark. For anyone in either situation, or who would like to see their one-parent family reflected, it's even more fantastic. We have read it almost every night for the past week without getting tired of it, and I expect it will be one of those stories we'll return to time and time again.
Title: Afraid of the Dark Authors: Sarah Shaffi and Isabel Otter
Illustrator: Lucy Farfort Publisher: Little Tiger Publication Date: 1st October 2020
Read a review of This Love by Isabel Otter and Harriet Lynas
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