Picture Books about Fear and Violence

This is another list of books generated on my grad school’s student forum. This one is about dark picture books. I’ve listed a few of these books elsewhere.

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about my opinion about what books which kids need at what times based on what they are going through or have gone through. But all of it is really a guess. The right books just strike the right kids when they need them to. And some of it is very mysterious. I can’t explain why I think that a lot of kids going through adversity might gravitate towards dark books. Especially if in general they are fantasy-prone kids, like I’ve talked about elsewhere. But kids living through tough times just seem to have a different relationship to darkness, and something that might be really scary and inappropriate for a more sheltered kid might really speak to something that a kid living through adversity needs to see reflected in his or her books.

The little foster boy I was helping to raise had a lot of issues that came from abuse and neglect and abandonment. He had a lot of anger (and a lot of beauty and goodness, too). When he was six I gave him the graphic novel The Savage written by David Almond and illustrated by Dave McKean. Now, the same thing given to my happy, healthy little cousin would have terrified him, but it was the perfect book for this little man. My little guy really saw himself in the image of this savage figure who can’t articulate his grief. And it helped him. We talked and talked and talked about the book endlessly and then one day instead of smashing a window or punching someone, he sat down in his room and he made a book called “the bad family” that expressed all his anger towards us and his situation. And then he plopped down on my lap and “read” it to me.

So sometimes dark books are what some kids need. I can’t really explain why. But perhaps its that we shouldn’t try to shield the darkness inherent in the world from the kids who already know it’s there. So here are some books that really go there. Use them judiciously.

  • Grimm’s Fairy Tales**
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak**
  • The Book that Eats People by John Perry
  • Smoky Night by Eve Bunting
  • Max and Moritz by Wilhelm Busch
  • Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann**
  • Benno and the Night of Broken Glass by Meg Wiviott
  • January’s Sparrow by Patricia Polacco
  • My Hiroshima by Junko Morimoto
  • Do Not Open by Brinton Turkle
  • Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean**
  • The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright**
  • Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak**
  • The Roses in My Carpet by Rukhsana Kahn
  • Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg**
  • Woolvs In The Sitee by Margaret Wild**
  • Run Far, Run Fast by Timothy Decker
  • The Rainbow Goblins by Ul de Rico
  • Garmann’s Summer by Stian Hole and Don Bartlett**
  • Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting and Ronald Himler
  • Only Opal: The Diary of a Young Girl by Opal Stanley Whiteley, Jane Boulton, and Barbara Cooney
  • The Boy and the Cloth of Dreams by Jenny Koralek and James Mayhew
  • Sparrow Girl  by Sara Pennypacker and Yoko Tanaka
  • The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco
  • Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco
  • The Shadow by Donna Diamond**
Books about war, riots, or the holocaust:
  • Mali Under the Night Sky by Youme Landowne
  • The Faithful Elephants by Yukio Tsuchiya, Ted Lewin, and Tomoko Tsuchiya Dykes
  • Terrible Things by Eve Bunting
  • Star of Fear, Star of Hope by Jo Hoestandt
  • Luba The Angel of Bergen-Belsen by Michelle R. McCann
  • The Journey That Saved Curious George by Louise Borden
  • The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco
  • The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse
  • Half Spoon of Rice by Icy Smith and illustrated by Sopaul Nhem

I haven’t read all of these, but I’ve starred the ones that I know have the quality of darkness that I’m talking about. Not that I can really articulate what that is. 

Next Week’s Topic: What is the role of darkness in books for kids?


About pamwatts

Writer, Reader, and Children's advocate
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