I THOUGHT I HEARD... A BOOK OF NIGHTMARE NOISES By Alan Baker AladdinWatts Pounds 7.99 MONSTERS IN THE GARDEN By Christopher Brook Andersen Pounds 8.99 SCAREDY CAT By Joan Rankin The Bodley Head Pounds 9.99 SUN IS FALLING, NIGHT IS CALLING By Laura Leuck Illustrated by Ora Eitan Heinemann Pounds 9.99 THE ZOO AT NIGHT By Michael Rosen Illustrated by Bee Willey Trade Wind Pounds 6. 95.
Things don't just go bump in the night if you're a child: they can go crash, bang, wallop. Between the monstrous noises and the shadowy ghosts, a child's bedroom can get pretty crowded, especially at bedtime. All of these books tackle the subject of fear and therefore should make good bedtime reading for small children, but some are more useful than others.
Whether adults love Edward the Unready depends on what kind of grown-ups they are. For Edward is not only afraid of a night away from home, he is also unready for school or swimming parties. He is also one of those bears who manage to get other parental-type bears to move heaven and earth (and snowploughs) to allay his worries I found this rather anxiety-producing because, in the end, Edward gets his own way - an event that is rare indeed for children who don't want to go to school or to stay somewhere when a snowstorm hits. None of this worries children in the least, of course, and they love Edward for the cuddly wimp he is. But this grown-up still found him fairly unbearable (the kind of pun Rosemary Wells herself might use).
How much more delightful it is to be a Scaredy Cat. This creature is the star of Joan Rankin's wonderfully drawn book and encounters a host of terrors such as Giants (a person's shadow) and Wiggly Thingamajigs (a person's hands in rubber gloves) and Screaming Sucking Monsters (vacuum cleaners). But this cat is the coolest and, in the end, he finds something that is afraid of him.
Scaredy Cat is fun and clever and is one of those books you can read over and over and see something new every time.
The same can be said for I Thought I Heard by Alan Baker, but this book is trying to be too clever. Grown-ups will love the clues scattered around its pages and its different layers of meaning, but most children tend not to be impressed by such things. The book tries to be interactive on several levels. For instance, it uses type in an onomatopoeic manner. So the words "click, click, click" jump around the page while "hiss" becomes "hissss" with ever-decreasing Ssss. This attempt to be lifelike succeeds almost too well as many adults may find the crescendoing "buzz, buzz, buzz" of the giant bumblebee enough to give them the creepy-crawlies too.
What does work well is the pictorial page at the end that shows all the noises as they appeared in the book. As always, it is fun to try and remember what you know only a few pages before. Some children - and adults - will like this exercise better than the story.
Another noisy book is Monsters in the Garden, a story that revolves around a little boy who fears the terrors of the night - and even those of his dreams. "I used to think they would get me. I would lie there trembling, until daylight sent them away. But I knew they would be back!" he tells us. Then one night the boy's cat goes missing and he and his gran go out to look for him. There, in the darkness, he finds a world of badgers and rabbits and foxes and the courage to sleep without fear too. The drawings are life-like and convincing and this story would be very useful for a child who is afraid of night noises.
The next two books fulfill one of a child's main criteria for bedtime stories - they rhyme. The Zoo at Night also manages to excite because it is a book that can fold out into what the publishers call a "free-standing landscape" But even these two features did not compensate for its scattered story and confusing content. Also lovely to look at is Sun is Falling, Night is Calling. The main plus of the rhyming "story" about a baby rabbit being put to bed is that it strikes a comforting, sing-songy note at the end of the day, but this is not enough to make it a favourite.
For once my five-year-old and I agreed that we'd prefer Scaredy Cat to all the rest. There's just something irresistible about inspiring stories with Wiggly Thingamajigs in them.