Kids love scary stories. Scary and gory – the original Little Red Riding Hood was indeed gobbled up by the wolf. In Cinderella, the mean step-sisters actually cut off their toes in order to try to fit into the glass slipper. Hansel and Gretel threw an old lady into an oven – an old lady that was about to eat them! And this isn’t confined to stories by the Brothers Grimm. We have the Dementors in Harry Potter which are some of the vilest creatures ever conceived in children’s literature. We have the poor orphans in Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events began their story with their parents being murdered. In “The Witches” by Roald Dahl, yet another set of parents is killed in a car accident. I could go on and on, but one thing tht’s clear is that while these story lines are scary – they’re not THAT scary.
What I mean by that is that, ultimately these are works of fiction. Kids read and re-read these otherwise horrific stories because they are safe – kids know what to expect, they are outside observers who can shut the book and walk away from the Big Bad Wolf or whatever make believe demons, zombies and vampires are popular these days. In that sense it helps kids deal with new and scary emotions.
Into the otherwise crowded market of scary kids books is Matthue Roth’s “My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents & Giant Bugs.” Billed as your child’s first exposure to Franz Kafka, it’s chock full of brilliantly scary illustrations by Rohan Daniel Eason. The book covers three of Kafka’s stories including The Metamorphosis, as such it is a good introduction to Kafka. But more than that, it’s for real scary. Way more frightening than any monster the most twisted imagination can conceive is the reality of the world we live in as described by Kafka – the fear, alienation, psychological and physical brutality and the sheer fucked-uppedness of existence that seems unreal when you are in its thrall, but is in fact all too real. That is the scariest stuff ever, and it’s not something you can just walk away from. Close “My First Kafka” and you an Junior are still in a Kafkaesque world. There’s no getting away from it.
In that respect, Roth may very well have created the very scariest book for children ever conceived. Is this a good thing? Is it a bad thing? I don’t know but I loved reading the book and I look forward to sharing it with my niece and nephews. I’ll let you know how they react, just don’t tell my sisters ok?