Subversive Picture Books (Part 5) - Mortal Danger

My posts on scary books have covered my biggest fear: The Dark and the Scary Creatures which lurk in it. But why do these scare me so? Danger. Maybe even Mortal Peril. Clearly, this is too scary for picture books, right? Wrong. Let's enter the world of extreme danger in picture books. 

"I would not eat a rabbit."

(I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen) 

Do you ever wonder, "What would my critique group say if my picture book murdered the antagonist in cold blood?"

"Murder in picture books is off limits."
"I think kids should learn to work it out."
"Maybe they could just hug instead?"

It didn't seem to concern Jon Klassen when he wrote his books This is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat Back.

"Nobody will ever find me."
(This is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen) 

In both of these books we get a pretty good idea on Klassen's feelings on theft and the repercussions of one's naughty actions. Though we are left with great concern when we ask ourselves, "Why is my child giggling at this ghastly event?" Then, "Why am I giggling too?"

""What is the monster like? Is it the most terrible thing anyone has ever seen?""
(The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Ivan Bates)

Brave little mice think they are ready to see the dark at the top of the stairs even though they've heard the stories about the monster who lives up there. But when they come face to face with the ferocious cat, they quickly go bumpety-bump back down the steps to their safe home. The fear of a monster builds with each page turn, but the young reader gets some relief when they see it's just a cat. Of course, for the mice it's not just a cat- it's a deadly enemy.

"They buried Niki. (...) Then they sang sad songs."
(Maggie and the Pirate, by Ezra Jack Keats)

I confiscated this book from my parents house last time I visited because I adored it so. Maggie lives a dangerous life by my suburban standards - living in an old bus and rafting the river to the grocery store alone. Then she must face a mysterious pirate which results in the tragic drowning death of her pet cricket. The pirate redeems himself by explaining his motivations and giving her a new cricket.

"I want something to eat and I want it NOW!"
(One Dark Night, by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Ivan Bates)

This one started in my dark list, but the true worry here is the juxtaposition of  friends mouse and mole venturing out in the dark while a bear is growling and stomping in his cave. You know the two will meet, and it will probably turn oh-no! 

""I think we should all sit on my branch," said Sarah."

(Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson)

Three owl babies venture out of their home after realizing mommy is gone, facing nighttime, moving creatures, and the fear a fox got mommy. Of course she comes home, but the tension of danger is woven through every page.

"Pardon me, but you're sitting on a..."

(Pardon Me, by Daniel Miyares)

A little bird is getting frustrated with all the animals landing on his island. The last one tries to warn him, but he just wants everyone to leave. Then he gets eaten by the alligator he is sitting on. I guess this is a "sharing is caring" message book? Great illustrations, btw.

What picture books scare you with the fear of mortal danger, or gulp, murder?!


  1. I had not heard of The Dark at the Top of the Stairs or Maggie and the Pirate. I will seek them out immediately at my local library. Thank you, Lauri!

  2. I haven't read most of these. I'll check them out. Lauri I can totally see you writing a really suspenseful story with a hilarious twist at the end.

    1. Thanks Catherine. I'm allowed to do that right? I think the main point of my research has been summoning courage. I mean, heck, you wrote zombie poems! Of course you'll say go for it:)

  3. Love Klassen's books. Love his humor. Love subversive PB which is probably why I am enjoying your posts so much, Lauri! You must be planning to write one. Please do! You would be the perfect person to write one.

  4. I always thought that we, as a society, lost something once picture books began to lose their edge.

    One of my favorite PBs as a kid was "I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew," which ends with the main character about to beat the living hell out of some nasty creatures. Man, oh, man, did I love that ending.

    1. I didn't realize until I looked it up that you were referencing a Seuss. Now I really have to get my hands on this book. (The reviews on goodreads are really worth reading on this one!!)

  5. Replies
    1. I know, I know - once you get to the middle grade books, it's all mortal danger! Sometimes it's evil villains and other times it's cancer. I guess these PBs are a warm up for what's coming...

  6. I adore Jon Klassen's books and really wish people would get over it. After's a joke lol And truth be told, animals are animals! lol Not EVERY book has to have a moral lesson!

    1. I think those books do have a moral: if you steal, you may be eaten. :) Not really any worse than your classic folk tale!

  7. I enjoyed reading through your subversive series. I understand this type of pb so much more. Thanks, Lauri!

    1. Any of these books leaves you with a feeling of being scared. You have to dig down to really analyze what part of it frightened you the most. And it may be slightly different for each person. You may even find an emotion you want to explore more in your own writing. Thanks for visiting!


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