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Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Dark, written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen. Harper Canada, 2013. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"In Laszlo's living room was
the biggest window
in the house.
Laszlo looked out at all the
dark outside. Above him
the roof creaked, and he
closed his eyes. Now the
dark was all Laszlo could see.
"No, no, " said the dark again.
"Not there."

How lucky was I to be at home when the doorbell rang this morning, and I signed for a package I was not expecting. Lucky too, that the package contained this wonderful new book by a stellar team of artists. Lemony Snicket is up to his old 'dark' tricks and Jon Klassen simply continues to amaze with his brilliant vision and remarkable illustrations.

Laszlo appears to have reason to fear the dark. He's little, the house is big and creaky, and there are a number of places where the dark might hide. There is little in the house of warmth and comfort. He is a boy in his pajamas with a vivid imagination and a healthy fear of the unknown. Not unlike others his age, he occasionally talks to the dark, seeking reassurance that it might answer.

One night, the dark does talk. Laszlo sleeps with a flashlight hand and the subdued illumination of a night light. When the night light burns out and the dark wants to make its  presence known, it calls his name with the need to show him something. With the help of his flashlight's beam and a modicum of courage, Laszlo follows the dark's directions hoping to find it in any familiar place. That is not to be....the dark wants Laszlo to follow it to the basement. It has a surprise in store for the young boy.

Just before the dark reveals its surprise, the author creates a dramatic pause and holds suspense with the suggestion that those dark places that can terrify us have purpose:

"Without a closet, you would have nowhere to put your
shoes, and without a shower curtain, you would splash
water all over the bathroom, and without the dark,
everything would be light, and you would never know
if you needed a lightbulb."

It holds the reader in suspense until the dark is ready to reveal its secret.

Have I told you how much I love Jon Klassen's work? Of course, I have! It isn't possible to see it and not be impressed. He creates such a sense of that feeling of fear with his shadows and darkness in the gouache and digital art. The stark surroundings of the house and the darkness broken only by very small areas of light make the dark as real a character as Laszlo is. You can almost feel it breathe. Young readers need not be fearful of the is gentle and reassuring and ultimately, a triumph for the small boy.

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