I tend to pick sweet stories for my sons, ages 6 and 8, about kind-hearted children who befriend talking mice.
I tend to pick sweet stories for my sons, ages 6 and 8, about kind-hearted children who befriend talking mice. They crave thrilling tales of vengeful robots, ghost hunters and anything with a giant snake. To keep their interest, I meet them halfway. There's a fine line between thrill and terror, so I'm always on the lookout for somewhat scary but age-appropriate books.
Last year, I read "Coraline" after hearing about the film and learning that the award-winning author, Neil Gaiman, wrote it for his 6-year-old daughter. Gaiman is well-known for adult horror-fantasy novels. My husband has read a couple of his mind-benders, and gave me a disbelieving look when I said I was reading a story for children by Neil Gaiman.
Halfway through "Coraline," I decided I would not read it to my boys. Frankly, I enjoyed the book. It is a quick read with rich language, a super plucky heroine and all kinds of suspense. Gaiman deserves the praise that is heaped on him and I am definitely a fan, but "Coraline" gave me the creeps. Maybe it's because I'm a mom and the villain, who looks like Coraline's real mom but eats spiders and has shiny black buttons for eyes, is so darn icky. Regardless, there was no way this was going to be a bedtime story for my tender little boys.
Recently, my oldest came across "Odd and the Frost Giants" at the library. After reading the plot summary he absolutely had to have it. I saw Gaiman's name on the cover and tried to talk my son out of it, but relented after skimming the book.
"Odd and the Frost Giants" is the story of a little Viking boy who, like the children in the Lemony Snicket books, is tragically unlucky. His father dies, a tree crushes his leg, and his mother remarries a neglectful man who favors his other children. Odd runs away from his village and quickly meets a talking eagle, bear and fox, who turn out to be the Norse gods Odin, Thor and Loki, all of whom have been turned into animals and thrown out of Asgard by a Frost Giant. If they can't find a way to reclaim their kingdom and regain their godly forms, Odd's world will face a never-ending winter and everyone will die. Odd sets out to help the Norse gods and ultimately save his village. It's a well-written, fun story with lots of Norse history and mythology thrown in.
Gaiman wrote "Odd and the Frost Giants" as his personal contribution to World Book Day in the United Kingdom, which exists purely to inspire children to read. It's an annual event where selected authors donate manuscripts and publishers print and distribute them to kids for free. "Odd and the Frost Giants" certainly scores in inspiring kids to read. My kids loved it. The oldest wants to know more about Norse gods and Viking longboats. The youngest wants a giant hammer. Both are clamoring for more Neil Gaiman.
Some of Gaiman's children's books are definitely not suitable for younger kids, like the award-winning "The Graveyard Book." But he has written quite a few aimed at kids ages 6-10, including "The Dangerous Alphabet," "The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish," "Instructions" and "Wolves in the Walls."
Our "Odd and the Frost Giants" experience made me realize that my kids are tougher than I am when it comes to children's books with an edge. After all, they were fine with Roald Dahl's "The Witches," and unfazed by Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Maybe I will let my oldest have a go at "Coraline" after all. Gaiman's books are strange and wonderful, and perfect for kids who like a little darkness at bedtime.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.