MTYT: Orion and the Dark

As we discussed last week, the current emphasis in schools on developing emotional health in children prompted our selection of books. We chose books that center around emotions common to children (loss, fear, anger) but with a twist. The emotions act as a character in the story. Also important, the books tell stories of a child coming to grips with emotion. The focus is on the great story–not on a list of coping skills found in the end matter and meant to teach children and parents. This week, we discuss Orion and the Dark.

Orion and the Dark

SUSAN: Told in first person, Orion relates how he fears many things in the world–wasps, popping balloons, space, girls, dogs–even his grandma. But he is especially afraid of the dark. The consummate inventor, he tries all kinds of things to take care of the dark–protest signs, night vision goggles, pet glow worms, eating lots of carrots–but nothing ever works until the dark comes alive in the shape of a blue gelatinous monster. Together they explore the darkest parts of the house and the source of the scariest sounds, and finally the night sky. Orion discovers that dark can be fun and full of magic.

I love the way Emma Yarlett uses cartoon-style drawings to list all the fears of Orion and his attempts to alleviate his fear of the dark. She uses scale and even engineered paper cut-outs to communicate the immensity of Orion’s fear, and eventually his delight in his exploration of the magic of dark. This book is a wonderful combination of humor and treatment of a fear commonly felt by kids.

DESIREE: This is a gorgeous book. I loved the pop-up arm and hand that extend from the Dark to greet Orion. There is also a seemingly deeper message in the book related to fear of the unfamiliar or unknown. After spending time together, Orion realizes that the Dark is actually quite wonderful. What messages do you think small children might take away from this book? Have you read it to your grandchildren?

SUSAN: I have not read it to my grandkids but I can imagine they would enjoy the size of the book and the double page spreads which make Orion’s fear so huge. One of the first lines in the book is about the size of his imagination and how well it works in creating big fears. The Dark shows up as a huge jellied monster who squeezes through the skylight and reaches out that huge hand you liked. But then the Dark takes on the enormous task of changing Orion’s perspective. They visit all the normal scary places (closet, under the bed) and visit many outside scary sounds (rustle, tap tap, bang, hoot). The Dark then takes the boy into the biggest scariest place of all–the night sky. That is where the real perspective shift occurs. Orion discovers that the night sky can be magical instead of scary.

I love the contrasts in the book–Orion is small and Dark is huge. Orion’s fears are paralyzing but at the end of the book he declares that he had a “super-duper spiffadocious incredamundo adventure.” So while fear is a common emotion with young kids, I think the story could give kids hope that sometimes a different perspective may change a fear into a wonder.

I am curious what you thought about the illustrations. We have been looking at what artists do to add to the meaning of the book, so how do you think Yarlett made the story more meaningful or approachable?

DESIREE: Good question. I appreciate the way Yarlett alternates between multiple vignettes depicting Orion’s fear, and double spreads, which invite the reader to experience his fear. The cartoon-like illustrations lighten the mood, allowing readers to contemplate whether or not Orion’s fear of the Dark is really warranted. This is a book children might read again and again, discovering and considering something new each time. It would also pair well with The Dark by Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) and Jon Klassen.

Title: Orion and the Dark
Author: Emma Yarlett
Publisher: Penguin Random House
ISBN: 9781783700295
Date Published: March 24th 2015

This is the second installment of June’s My Take/Your Take. Last week, we discussed Life without Nico. To follow the conversation, and to learn more about this month’s books, check back each Wednesday

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