I was struck by Lisa's post yesterday about playing the Lion Game; what struck me was her young son's conviction that she really had "gone away" and had become something else. In this case, she had become a lion to him, and he was as frightened as if it had really happened. You could say that for him, it really had happened. This is a confusion that children grow out of; when they're older they can recognize their parents under masks or in costumes, and not be bewildered.
Yet the fear... do children outgrow it? Today's review is of a spectacularly creepy book which enthralls middle grade children and unnerves parents. Coraline, by the masterful storyteller of the macabre, Neil Gaiman.
Here we have a child left to her own devices in an old house. Her parents are busy and distracted. She finds a mysterious passageway into a mirror house, and to her surprise and initial delight, she finds another set of parents.
"Coraline?" the woman said. "Is that you?"
And then she turned around. Her eyes were big black buttons.
"Lunchtime, Coraline," said the woman.
"Who are you?" asked Coraline.
"I'm your other mother," said the woman. "Go and tell your other father that lunch is ready." She opened the door of the oven. Suddenly Coraline realized how hungry she was. It smelled wonderful. "Well, go on."...
"I didn't know I had another mother," said Coraline, cautiously.
"Of course you do. Everyone does," said the other mother, her black button eyes gleaming.
What makes this so eerie is how reasonable it all seems at first. Coraline is understandably cautious at the start, but the food is good and she has awesome toys in this other house, and her Other Mother and Other Father have lots of time for her. They want to be with her always. There's just one catch...
Scaring ourselves with spooky stories is a way to experiment with our limits of fear and courage. Coraline finds herself thinking, "I will be brave... No, I am brave." Your child can be brave too, with Coraline. For independent readers 10 or older.