The Dark by Lemony Snicket

cover image

Ill. by Jon Klassen. Orchard Books, 2013. ISBN 9781408330029.
Picture book. Laszlo is afraid of the dark. But he lives in a big house with a creaky roof, smooth, cold windows and several flights of stairs so there are many places that dark can hide. But mostly, dark lives in the basement waiting in a distant corner during the day and then coming out at night to spread itself against the windows and doors of Laszlo's house. But Laszlo thought that if he visited the dark in its room, it wouldn't come and visit him in his room so each morning he would peek at it in the basement and say hello. Until one night, it did . . .
The power of this story lies in Snicket's ability to personify the dark as a real entity as it leads Laszlo on a journey through the house and down, deep into the basement. It talks to Laszlo as though it is a real character, and Laszlo's calm response, both expression and action, helps convey the message that there is nothing to fear. Then just as the climax is almost reached, Snicket provides an explanation of the need for creaky roofs and blank windows, almost as though he is trying to defuse the suspense to make it manageable for the young reader.
Jon Klassen's illustrations help build up the suspense - a limited palette, the use of shadow, shade and light, bare walls, uncovered windows and empty rooms all add to the atmosphere and feed a little boy's imagination - and, in the words of one reviewer, this is an 'inspired pairing'. This is a perfect example of a picture book where text and illustrations work so well that each would be diminshed without the other.
The Dark appeared regularly on the best-of lists for 2013, particularly those in the US, and it is a gentler Snicket at work than the one we are accustomed to. Both the US and UK publishers have book trailers and you can listen to an audio clip by Neil Gaiman.
This would be a great introduction to introducing the science concepts of light and day, day and night, the rotation of the earth and so forth so that young children begin to understand more and fear less - another way to support the curriculum beyond the traditional English perspective.
Barbara Braxton