Florence Parry Heide's Some Things Are Scary
illustrated by Jules Feiffer
Book review by Monica Friedman
A List of Childhood Fears, Illustrated by Pulitzer-Winner Jules Feiffer
A word of warning: if your children are always looking for something new to be afraid of, this may not be the book for them, unless you want them to start worrying about really outlandish things (e.g. What “if you’d been born a hippopotamus”?). Most kids, however, will have fun with what essentially amount to a list of things that, for various reasons, can be scary (primarily to small children).
Review - Some Things Are Scary
Most of the items on this list are, in fact, sort of scary, but in different ways. There are the fears of social uncertainty (“Finding our your best friend has a best friend who isn’t you” or “Knowing your parents are talking about you and you can’t hear what they’re saying”), the immediate fears (“Being with your mother when she can’t remember where she parked the car” or “Knowing that someone is waiting to jump out and say BOO! At you”), the physical fears (“Getting a shot” or “Stepping down from something that is higher than you thought it was”), and the ridiculous fears (“Thinking about a big bird with big teeth who might swoop down and carry you away” or the thing about being born a hippopotamus).
There are fears that are confined to childhood but understandable by adults, such as “Being with your parents in an art museum and thinking you’re never going to see the exit sign” and fears that even affect adults, like “Having people looking at you and laughing and you don’t know why.”
Unlike most books about the irrational fears of childhood, there is no resolution to Some Things Are Scary, no “but” at the end to negate the worry inspired by this litany of fear. In fact, the book ends on a note that seems to suggest that there is no end to fear. While one of the fears is “Thinking you’re never going to get any taller than you are right now,” the last line of the story is “Knowing you’re going to grow up to be a grownup is scary.”
Jules Feiffer’s distinctive cartoon pen renders this last fear all too clearly: a tiny boy’s head, perched atop a massive, adult body in suit and tie, expresses the sense of unease suffered by many adults, who may still feel like uncertain and fearful children, forced to move through the world in a grownup body. There is a comedy to it, which children will recognize, but there is a reality to it that will ring true with adults.
It is Feiffer’s comedic illustrations that make this book work: he manages to communicate fear while injecting a humorous element that helps the story transcend its otherwise horrifying premise. The wide-eyed terror exhibited by the boy “Skating downhill when you haven’t learned how to stop” or the one “on a swing when someone is pushing you too high,” suggest that the scariness of Some Things Are Scary is very real but, at the same time, that there is something ridiculous about these fears.
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