Reviews by Terry Northcutt, Ph.D.
In Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, Storm in the Night, and Beezus and Ramona; adults tell childhood stories in which they were not heroes. They were jealous, angry, filled with mean thoughts, or paralyzed by fear. They experienced all those thoughts and emotions that are labeled as negative.
This is in sharp contrast to the many books that portray powerful wizards and superheroes. Children need such books. They need battles between good and evil in which good predictably triumphs. They need happy endings. We all need these types of stories because we need the reassurance that in the end all will be well. But these stories do not enable a child to understand or tolerate his human tendency to experience negative feelings and hurtful thoughts, to make mistakes and, sometimes, to fail completely.
So children also need stories with ordinary, fallible, people struggling through the difficulties of life, sometimes rising to the challenge and sometimes disappointing themselves and others, but usually learning something valuable in the process. These stories, particularly those told by trusted, respected, competent adults enable children to tell their own painful stories. It gives them permission to be less than perfect, it lets them know that such thoughts and feelings are normal, it gives them the long term perspective that adults have learned something important from their painful experiences. These three books, all by award winning authors, provide these types of stories.
The Fear Place
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Interest Level, Middle Grade, (4-6)
Publisher: Aladdin (paperback) 1996
Paperback: 128 pages
Review by Terry Northcutt, Ph.D.
Sibling rivalry, an encounter with a cougar, a boy paralyzed with fear on a narrow ledge of a rock face with a six hundred foot drop to the gorge below, the same boy knowing he needs to navigate this rock ledge he calls the Fear Place to rescue a brother who may be injured. These are some of the plot elements in The Fear Place by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor that create the tension, conflict, and suspense that engage readers of adventure and survival books. But the author of this book goes beyond these elements to bring readers into the experience of the thoughts, feelings and physical sensations that we all recognize as part of the experience of facing our worst fears. More important, she illustrates the struggle to cope with that fear. And in an email conversation she shared the fear about her own two boys that compelled her to write the novel.