April 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

JLG’s On the Radar: Be Not Afraid—Picture Books for a Not-So-Scary Storytime

Betty Bunny Didn't Do ItAny librarian will tell you that scary books are popular―no matter how young the patron. Knowing that someone else is scared can lessen a child’s anxiety. Reading about frightening things also provides common ground for discussion. A scary storytime allows listeners to bring their own experiences to it. Though you may have to direct your sharing time (before it gets out of hand), the following picture books bring mutual fears into the conversation.

KAPLAN, Michael B. Betty Bunny Didn’t Do It. illus. by Stéphane Jorisch. Dial. 2013. ISBN 9780803738584. JLG Level: P+ : Primary (Grades K–1).

Since everyone is too busy to play with her, Betty Bunny is quite capable of getting into trouble all by herself. “Oops,” says the young handful when she breaks a lamp. Afraid to tell the truth, she tells her siblings, “I didn’t do it.” She proceeds to explain how the Tooth Fairy threw a big bag of baby teeth, sending the lamp crashing to the floor. Blaming someone else for her mistake seems like a brilliant idea. “Why didn’t I think of it before?” Brother Henry promptly tells his mother that she’s lying. Betty Bunny doesn’t quite understand that “lying is not okay.” What will it take to teach her the value of honesty? And when her truth-telling hurts someone’s feelings, how will she learn to temper her candidness?

A lovable character with realistic problems teams with humorous situations for a hilarious, but thought-provoking, read-aloud― just right for kids who may be afraid to tell the truth.

The Black RabbitLEATHERS, Philippa. The Black Rabbit. Candlewick. 2013. ISBN 9780763657147. JLG Level: K : Kindergarten (Grades PreK–K).

Rabbit doesn’t know what to do. It’s a beautiful, sunlit day when he steps out of his burrow, but everywhere he goes the Black Rabbit follows him. When Rabbit moves, the Black Rabbit moves. If Rabbit stops, the Black Rabbit stops. “What do you want? Why are you following me?” cries Rabbit. But the Black Rabbit never answers. Running into the woods to escape, Rabbit notices two eyes staring out from the darkness. It is Wolf! Running faster than ever, Rabbit trips. Is it too late? Can Rabbit escape Wolf who’s chasing him or the Black Rabbit who keeps following him?

Short text and clever illustrations shine a light on fear of the unknown in this tale of the finding safety where you least expect it.

The Dark by Lemony SnicketSNICKET, Lemony. The Dark. illus. by Jon Klassen. Little, Brown. 2013. ISBN 9780316187480. JLG Level: K : Kindergarten (Grades PreK–K).

What better team than Snicket and Klassen to explore a child’s most common fear―the dark. Laszlo is afraid of the dark that spends most of the day in the basement and creeps into every corner at night. Laszlo greets the dark every morning when it’s back in the basement where he belongs. His plan to keep it away from his room works until one night―when it doesn’t. “Laszlo, I want you to do something,” says the dark. They look in all the usual dark places until it brings the boy to the top of the basement stairs. What does the dark want to show him? Is Laszlo brave enough to follow the dark?

Brilliantly paced with lots of creepy black shadowing, read aloud time just got scarier. Perfect for the younger set who beg for a scary story, but safe enough to prevent nightmares.

Ol' Mama SquirrelSTEIN, David Ezra. Ol’ Mama Squirrel. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen. 2013. ISBN 9780399256721. JLG Level: K : Kindergarten (Grades PreK–K).

“Ol’ Mama Squirrel had raised many babies. ‘Mark my words,’ she’d say. ‘There’s no shortage of creatures that would love to snack on a baby squirrel…but it won’t happen on my watch!’” Mama Squirrel seems to have everything under control. She chatters and scolds any threat of danger―whether it’s a predator or a kite. “And that takes care of that!” One afternoon a great, growling grizzly bear appears unafraid of her angry, “chook, chook, chook” chatter. She pelts him with last year’s nuts. The bear is shocked, but then he laughs. He climbs higher and higher while Ol’ Mama Squirrel begins to feel a touch of fear. What will she do? Will something bad happen on her watch?

Award-winning author/illustrator David Ezra Stein offers a story that roots for the underdog. And it’s a laugh a minute!

For strategies about how to use these books and links to supportive sites, check out the Junior Library Guild blog, Shelf Life.


Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at www.JuniorLibraryGuild.com.


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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.