Some of your books are weird. Are they appropriate for my child?
"I do not know your child. But I will say I do not subscribe to the notion that every book is for every child. I make the kinds of books that I liked as a kid. I don't like ordinary, middle-of-the-road books. I like funny, odd books that excite and challenge a child. There are enough people doing nice books about manners and feelings and magical unicorns. I do not do those kinds of books."
- Lane Smith
There is something delicious in being wicked and laughing about it. Most prominently, I am drawn to children's "horror" stories because of their brilliant sense of humor. Because they tackle life's most horrible scenarios with the forthright innocence of a child, making the tales, by nature, funny and delightful in their tragedy. When writing The Squickerwonkers (November 18, Titan Books), I took my cues from one of the original tragic comedians when he said, "I prefer an interesting vice to a virtue that bores" (Moliere).
This list is a nod to the books that have tickled my wicked sense of humor in their accurate and sensational portrayals of human senselessness. Some I discovered as a child and discovered myself in them, and some I sought out in adulthood, to remind myself of that delightfully naughty corner of my spirit that no one seems to like to talk about, or know how to talk about, except maybe a few brave authors...
There is no better place to start when talking about children's spooky stories than with the great and, in my opinion, untouchable Edward Gorey (yes, he was born with that name). He has written and illustrated countless, horrifying, illustrated tales for children. My two favourites as a child were The Dwindling Party and The Gashlycrumb Tinies. Both stories are littered with death, but I've chosen The Gashlycrumb Tinies to open this list because it's a strikingly dark alphabet book that grimly describes the death of 26 well-named children where The Dwindling Party only enacts the deaths of four adults and two children... although The Dwindling Party does leave an unfortunate boy orphaned at the end... and it's a pop-up book, so... on second thought... maybe Dwindling Party takes the cake.
Who doesn't know and love Dahl. He was dark, he was unabashed and he always sided with the kids. As a child, for a long spell, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory was my all-time favourite book, and as an adult I would still stand by it as Dahl's best horror. Those freaky little Oompa-Loompas knocking off harmless (if bratty) children inside the walls of an unmistakably strange factory was just too delicious. And Dahl's overt sense of justice in the acts was what made the book all the more alluring.
Perhaps not as obviously funny, but most certainly overtly dark, The Rainbow Goblins was also one of my childhood favorites. In this immaculately illustrated story, a hungry mob of goblins set out across lands to hunt down the beautiful rainbow and gobble up all its color. In an eerie, heroic and ironic twist at the end, both innocence and beauty themselves conspire against the goblins to murder them before they can eat up the rainbow. Deliciously dark.
Just a couple of years ago I was turned on to this fascinating tale for children that looks death, literally, dead in the eye. Also beautifully illustrated by Erlbruch himself, this short story tells the tale of Death coming to visit an unfortunate and oblivious duck. In his hands, Death brings a black tulip for the duck which he will pass to the duck when his hour comes. The friendship that ensues between Death and the duck in the hours leading up to Duck's passing is both humorous and tender, leaving the reader, in the end, with a deeply unsettling sense of comfort.