Children's books scare the living daylights out of me. One night my daughters asked me to read the book "Outside Over There" to them. It's by Maurice Sendak, the guy who wrote "Where the Wild Things Are." In the book, a young girl, maybe 4 years old, is babysitting for her baby brother. Some goblins steal the baby away. She has to fight a goblin army and rescue him. I was waking up in cold sweats all night.
My kids loved it. They asked to read it again the next night. And the next night.
Children are way more comfortable with strangeness and scariness than adults. The world is a strange and new place to them. Everything is wondrous. Everything is terrifying. The average refrigerator is way taller than your average toddler.
One night I was reading a book by Franz Kafka, the odd and eerie storyteller who lived in Prague, whose stories are resplendent with the city's own mystery and beauty and disturbing weirdness. My daughters asked me what I was reading, and if I could read it to them. I wasn't going to. Then I did. Why not? I thought. What's the worst that could happen? And before you knew it -- night after night, they asked for Kafka.
A boy who changes into a giant insect. Talking jaguars who debate the philosophical implications of hunting -- and then go hunting anyway. A girl who runs away and becomes the leader of a group of monsters. That's the Kafka my kids discovered. That's the Kafka my kids made me realize the scariness, and the beauty, that had been there all along.
Check out 'My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, and Giant Bugs' on Matthue Roth's site.