Picture Books for Children Who are Afraid of the Dark.

Fear of the dark is fairly common amongst young children. It often arises around the age of two or three when their imaginations develop and they begin pretend play.  Often, children become fearful about what might be lurking in the darkness but sometimes it is also tied up with other anxieties.

Sharing a book is the perfect way to invite a child to talk about their fears. Children’s fears are real so it helps to listen to them and work out strategies for alleviating fears together .  When my daughter was young, she developed an extreme fear of darkness, so bad that she would cower and cry if I left the curtains open as it was getting dark. It turned out that she had very poor eyesight but was too young to articulate it.  When it was dark, she could barely see anything at all.  Once her eyes were tested and she wore glasses, her fear was more manageable.  She still gets scared sometimes when she gets up in the night, but having a night-light by her bed (preferably one she can carry) helps a lot. When her fear was at its height, sharing stories helped a lot. I even wrote a book just for her, about a magic elf that she could call upon whenever she was scared.

Fears are helped when children can talk to you about them and what better way to start a conversation than reading a good book together. Below are some of my favourites; let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions.

  1. The Moon Inside by Sandra V. Feder, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro

This new title, is the story of Ella who grows more comfortable with darkness as her mother gently encourages her to appreciate  nature’s night-time wonders. Ella’s favourite colour is yellow and she feels sad as the yellow disappears at dusk.  The illustrations move from an indoor world of yellow, black and white to an outdoor twilight of green, red, blue and oranges.  Ella looks and listens as she explores with her mother and finds many beautiful things. She finally decides that if she leaves fewer lights on inside, then she can experience the glow of the moon from her bedroom.

Talking points for children

  • What can you see at night?
  • What can you hear at night?
  • Does it feel darker inside or outside?
  • How does it feel to look out of your window at night?
  • What would happen if we didn’t have night? What would you miss?

2. The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Lazlo is afraid of the dark but the dark usually lives in the basement. That is until one night when the dark, in its personified form, enters Lazlo’s bedroom and takes him on a journey through the house to the basement. Once there, the dark shows him  a drawer where he finds night-light bulbs and Lazlo and the dark live in harmony ever after.  This book combines sumptuous, descriptive text with pictures that show the stark contrast between the shiny blackness and the light of the flashlight.

Talking points for children

  • What does dark look like?
  • What does dark feel like?
  • What can we do to make the dark feel different?

3. Can’t you Sleep Little Bear by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Barbara Firth

This timeless classic tells the story of Big Bear and Little Bear. Little Bear can’t go to sleep because he is afraid of the darkness all around. Big Bear brings lamps of different sizes to help Little Bear, but he is still afraid.  When Little Bear still can’t sleep, Big Bear takes him outside to see the light of the moon and stars. Finally convinced that he is safe, he falls asleep in Big Bear’s arms, in front of a warm fire.  If comfort food came in book form, this would be it.

Talking points for children

  • What helps you when you can’t sleep?
  •  Why aren’t grown-ups afraid of the dark?
  • How do you feel when you look up to the sky when it is dark?

4. The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson, illustrated by Paul Howard

Another timeless classic, this time in early chapter book format.  Plop is a barn owl, but unlike all of his friends, Plop thinks the dark is scary.  Each chapter deals with a different aspect of darkness as Plop learns  through his many adventures, that dark is exciting, kind, fun, necessary, fascinating, wonderful and beautiful. This is a perfect read-aloud book for young children.

Talking points for children.

  • Why do you think dark is fun, fascinating, beautiful etc.?
  • Can you think of other adjectives to describe the dark?
  • Have you ever been convinced by someone else that something you thought was scary wasn’t actually that frightening at all?

5. I’m Coming to Get You by Tony Ross

I first came across this picture book as part of a children’s literature module back in my student days and it is a personal favourite. Though not strictly about a fear of the dark, it is a book about putting fears into perspective.  As a creature from outer space hurtled towards Earth, it warns Tommy , “I’m coming to get you”.  Tommy  searches for it as he goes off to bed but can’t find it. In the morning, the monster gets ready to pounce, only to find that he is smaller than a matchstick in the human world.

Talking points for children

  • If you could squish one fear with your shoe, what would it be?
  • What things are you scared of that might in reality be more frightened by you?

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