Why Do Children Like Books About Monsters? by Author Lauren Oliver
Searching “children’s books” + “monsters” yields nearly eight million Google results. BN.com has its own section of the online store dedicated to children’s books about monsters. The readers’ forum goodreads.com readily turns up a parents’ discussion thread about the best monster books for kids of various ages.
Then there are the bestsellers: Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak; Leonardo, The Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems. The Harry Potter books feature monsters. So does Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And Percy Jackson and The Olympians. The list goes on.
I recently wrote a monster story for children. The Spindlers is about a girl, Liza, who must journey to a vast subterranean realm to rescue her brother from evil spider-like creatures, and it was actually based on one of my favorite childhood monster stories: Outside Over There, by Maurice Sendak. In both The Spindlers and Sendak’s work, an older sister must rescue her younger brother from the evil beings who have stolen him.
So: why do children like books about monsters?
Emotions are slippery and complex, and difficult to understand and vocalize. Kids don’t have the vocabulary—or, even, necessarily, the self-awareness—to identify and subsequently deal with their fears and anxieties. So they transform these feelings, these fears, into physical beings that can be looked at, comprehended, and ultimately vanquished.
That, too, is the point of monster stories: they prove that with a little pluck and courage, even the most fearsome monster can be tamed. In both Outside Over There and The Spindlers, the older sister faces dangers and challenges and ultimately emerges triumphant, bearing her kid brother back to safety. These books are parables of order over chaos. They help children believe, and know, that no matter how winding the path, and how dark the road, there is a familiar place of light on the other side. And isn’t that, ultimately, what we all want to believe in? We may face monsters day-to-day. But home—and safety—always await.
Lauren Oliver is the “New York Times” and internationally bestselling writer of “Before I Fall” and the Delirium Trilogy, loved by teens and adults fans of cross-over young adult fiction. Oliver currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.