by Gianna Marino
In confronting fear, which is probably one of the bigger hurdles of childhood…and dare I say it…adulthood, at times, Gianna Marino has hit the mark with “Night Animals.”
Fear can be nameless, unreasoning and hard to put into words.
I can just see this picture book as a great backyard campsite read this summer – with a flashlight, of course. This picture book has actually managed to… make fear funny.
In “Night Animals”, four forest folk, that are busy hiding, cowering and bumping into one another in whispered conversation, are gamely trying to evade that which they fear most at night…which turns out to be…each other.
Peering out from behind trees, in the dead of night, a skunk , possum, wolf, and bear are all in hiding from the fear that does have a name…Night Animals!
Somehow Ms. Marino has managed to shine some light on what fuels fear.. and can diminish it, that is, when you can attach a name and a face to it.
It takes a upside down bat, hanging from a tree, to ask these quaking quadrupeds, the probing question that this clinging and clustered group in the dark, lives in mortal fear of:
What are you so scared of?
We’re scared of night animals!
But you ARE night animals.
Will that be the end of the fear cycle? Maybe…or maybe not, as a group of nearby young campers shine a light on the scene of these nocturnal night watchers.
And, as both parties take off in opposite directions, just HOO has the final word on this fear fest that ends in headlong retreat of humans and animals alike; one from the other?
Another night animal, if you please, that’s who…er HOO.
Ms. Marino’s art in her appropriately dimly lit tale is nonetheless a slow eye opener for young readers on why what we have nothing to fear, as President D. Franklin Roosevelt famously and correctly stated, “but fear itself.”
And when the emotion of fear of the unknown runs high, as it does here, whether it comes in animal or human form, reason goes out the window. But it’s sure comforting to know that it’s pretty much of a universal feeling.
And, we can even run away to fight fear another day…in whatever form it takes.
Perhaps a little knowledge of self recognition, provided by a hanging bat, can even lighten the situation with humor that puts it all in perspective.
Ms. Marino’s picture of a grown bear and wolf locked in a tight embrace to ward off the fearful, in a fear-filled night, provides ample fodder for bug-eyed animal imaginings that are pretty funny.
We have met the enemy and it is US!
It may not completely eradicate any trepidation and dread of the unknown overnight in your young reader, but at least they will know they have plenty of company as they combat it.
And have a good chuckle as they do.
Lights out? Maybe not…yet.
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