Posted by Kristen M. Ploetz in Bookshelf on October 17, 2013
Type of book? Picture book
Year published? 2013
First time reading this author? Yes (definitely not the last though!)
First time with this illustrator? Yes (again, not the last!)
The Breakdown – Mine
I was drawn in by the illustrations first, and the story second. A quick thumb through the book told me that it was, predictably, about a young boy who was afraid of the dark. But the illustrations, which were so, well, dark, interested me quite a bit because so much of children’s book illustrations is so, well, light. I like contrasts and wide range in subjects and illustration, especially for young readers who are figuring out what they like (and don’t like), and how to tell a good book (written and/or drawn) from a not so good one. This was one of only a few darkly illustrated books that I’ve found for her age range, so I was excited to see it on the shelf.
I admit I was hesitant to get this book because, knock on wood, M has not ever seemed afraid of the dark. Sure, she goes to sleep with a very dim night light on, but we shut it off after she falls asleep. That means when she wakes up to use the bathroom, which is every. single. night. it’s dark in her room. But I didn’t want to give her any ideas that she should be afraid of the dark, like so many children seem to be, so I was hesitant at first. In the end, I’m glad I got the book because she immediately took to it and its underlying theme, which is bravery.
The topic of bravery has been a prominent one in this house and for M in particular for the past year, and it is nice to provide some “new material” in this regard with books like this, if only to reinforce the concept. Laszlo, the main character (aside from “the dark”), must summons up some courage to rectify the darkness that has besieged his room when the night light goes out. Naturally, the extra night lights are stored in the basement. The dark basement. Dark makes its range known throughout the house—in closets, behind the shower curtain, beyond glass windows at night—but it is the basement that is the ultimate dark, especially to a child. Laszlo’s bravery is ultimately rewarded at the end of the story after he ventures down the stairs into the basement.
What I really loved about the story is that it personifies the dark as a friendly entity. I think this is a good message to embrace at a young age . . . yes, this coming from a grown woman months shy of forty who still must have a night light on somewhere upstairs in order to fall asleep. Ahem. But by giving the dark some dialogue in the story, it softens the bad rap that the dark usually gets. It also reminds us that we can find courage, or at least keep an open mind, to trust in the things that we cannot always “see” in bright light. I think this kind of reminder serves us well when it comes to encountering people or ideas that are unfamiliar to us, though I am not sure that that is what the author was going for ultimately. I recommend this book to children aged 4-8, and possibly older, especially if bravery and/or fears of the dark are common topics of conversation in your house too.
The Breakdown – Hers (edited slightly for typical 6 year old tangents)*
What did you think of the book?
I liked the name Laszlo. I liked that he finally went down [in the basement] because he thought it was too dark. I liked it because it was dark. I liked the pictures because they were dark.
What was the main idea of the story, do you think?
It was about a boy being afraid of the dark but then he wasn’t afraid after he tried going in the basement.
Are you afraid of the dark?
No. I’m not afraid.
Then why do you fall asleep with a night light on?
I like to make it brighter while I’m getting sleepy. And in case I have to use the bathroom before I fall asleep I won’t trip.
* M’s teacher is having the children explore identifying the “main idea” of stories this year. While it’s certainly (and arguably sadly) driven by a long-term need related to future standardized testing where this skill and reading comprehension will be tested, I think it is still important to develop this skill in its own right so that she becomes a critical reader and thinker. To that end, I have been asking her more and more about the books we read, and will periodically include her in book reviews so that you can get her takeaway from the stories as well.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz