Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Big bad wolves and other scary stuff

A three-year-old I know, MicroB, likes dinosaurs - but she's also scared of them. She likes to read stories about dinosaurs, and play with them, and go to see them at the museum. But then she is afraid they will come in her room when she is asleep and sometimes she has nightmares about them. Today she asked me to read The Enormous Crocodile, even though she's rather scared of being eaten by a crocodile (understandably). And of course we read lots of books with big bad wolves in. One night she asked me to draw a big bad wolf on the chalkboard door in her bedroom. It didn't seem like a good idea, but I did it. And when we go to Lammas Land, she likes to go over the troll bridge and then peer underneath to see which troll didn't eat her this time. It seems she's challenging herself with these fears.

Recently I was at a school fete where there was a second-hand copy of my favourite book when I was a child. It's called Animal Fair and has the most amazing 1960s illustration style (see right). The picture above was my favourite and yet it also terrified me. I memorized the identifying features of a wolf. It seemed hugely important that I remember them all, just in case. Sometimes I was sent outside to get firewood. Obviously, there might be bears and wolves outside. I mean, it was Hampshire - just infested with scary wolves and bears, you could hardly move for them. Part of what worried me about it was that it seemed to show that the diagram was no help. Here were some kids who had the diagram and still didn't recognise a wolf. That's rather alarming. There's more to wolf-recognition than meets the eye. So definitely something to be scared about.

MicroB has never has never encountered a dinosaur or crocodile outside a book or museum, nor I a wolf. These are bookish fears. They are safe fears, a good way of practising being scared and being OK. Books and stories provide a vital lesson in coping with fear, with lack of control and with uncertainty. It might not seem like that when your three-year-old wakes you up night after night because they're scared of dinosaurs, but it's all important stuff. When children don't have access to stories, it's hard to develop and practise a full range of emotions. They are launched into life emotionally naked. It's as if instead of giving someone driving lessons we just set them in a car in the middle of the M25 and told them to get on with it. Being scared by books, having nightmares about them, and still reading them make up an important life lesson. And if you've read all your books and you do meet a big bad wolf, at least there's a good chance you will recognise it. And run.

Anne Rooney
blog: The Shipwrecked Rhino

Out now: Pirates - Dead Men's Tales (Carlton, 2017)


Pippa Goodhart said...

Am just off into Cambridge via Lammas Land, so will trip trap very tiptoeily over that troll bridge!

Susan Price said...

Completely agree, Anne. It reminds me of reading stories to my youngest brother. There was a sad one that always made him sob. But every couple of days he would insist on hearing it again - and sob again. There was obviously something that drew him to it. I think he was practicing those emotions, preparing for them, if you will.

Catherine Butler said...

Was Animal Fair a setting of the song, by any chance?

Penny Dolan said...

Animal Fair was a song that went something like this: I went to the animal Fair, the birds & the beasts were there, The big baboon by the light of the moon was combing his auburn hair . . .(something . . something?) The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees but what become of the monk-ey monkey monk etc. And back to the start again, but there was NO wolf. :-)