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Ghosts and Frights
The Book of Phobias & Manias; Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire; Our Day of the Dead Celebration; Scholastic News and Aquila
Hello friends. Thanks for being here with me after a long, quiet month of no KidNonFic. Fall includes many birthdays and anniversaries for our family, so it’s A LOT. But I couldn’t let October get by without some book recs. Halloween looms so large at the end of the month, and it’s a holiday I grew up celebrating with gusto and curiosity. Now, as a parent, it’s really interesting to see how our kids do, and don’t, get into it. But it’s also become a lot more stressful because now the desire to find or make “the perfect costume” is compounded two-fold, and because the whole sugar-monster situation is very challenging. Still, I really do enjoy embracing the seasonal shift, chill, and the mood of otherworld-wariness/awareness. And THAT is where this batch of KidNonFic comes in, that exact tension between wariness and awareness of things we cannot see, including death, but also disease and misdeeds. Here I present a small collection of books aimed at the thin veil between what is known and unknown: a catalog of fears; chilling accounts of frightening history; a fleeting bridge to lost loved ones; and a couple debunked haunts. Enjoy!
The Book of Phobias and Manias is a pop-reference to the clinical extremes of fear and obsession, presented alphabetically by diagnosis with historical information about early cases, and recent research on how the conditions can be triggered. In her brief introduction, Kate Summerscale writes:
All phobias and manias are cultural creations: the moment at which each was identified - or invented - marked a change in how we thought about ourselves. A few of those described here are not psychiatric diagnoses at all, being words coined to name prejudice (homophobia, xenophobia), to mock fads or fashions (Beatlemania, tulipomania) or to make a joke (aibohphobia, hip-popotomonstrosesquipediophobia, the supposed fears of palindromes and long words). But most of the entries in this volume describe real and sometimes tormenting conditions. Phobias and manias reveal our inner landscapes - what we recoil from or lurch towards, what we can't get out of our heads. Collectively, they are the most common anxiety disorders of our time.
My kids have often asked me if I’m scared of anything, and I talk with them about my fear of the dark (nyctophobia), which was most intense when I was a child but I still feel now. The entry for nyctophobia is quite illuminating – it’s far more common among both children and adults than most assume; Freud called it our first fear, alongside the fear of solitude, although it doesn’t usually develop until age 4ish; prescriptions have ranged from tough-it-out, 1786, to desensitization, 1980, to offering comfort and embracing the intensification of our other senses, now. This is a general audience book, so, heads up, it includes taboo topics like sexuality and scary topics like murder and injury. So, while I’m happy to have a reference to expand and contextualize fears and scares, this one benefits from some oversight.
The Book of Phobias and Manias. 2022, Kate Summerscale. Target age: General audience [intro audio sample, author interview, interview about her previous book on “true ghost stories”, libraries, book stores]
Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire is an example of real-place-lore-for-tourists. You know, salacious stories that entice visitors to be curious, spend a little extra time (and presumably cash), and learn a little local history before returning home. This particular book is a slim guide to hikes in a specific region highlighting fraught or downright fucked history. Some of the haunts are fairly benign, like the geological formation named the Devil’s Bean Pot and the nearby ruins of an old hotel and visitor center. Some are ghost-sighting tales inspired by the accidental deaths of early 20th-century mountaineers, some by the isolation of workers at high-altitude observatories. And some of the history is truly horrifying, especially those stories that feature conflict between early colonizers, native people, and enslaved people. This book is geared for a general, adult audience, and as a popular tourist reference, the perspective is heavily skewed. I feel comfortable making it available to my nearly-9-year-old because we talk a lot, at home and in our schools, about American history’s uncomfortable roots in racism and systemic bias that pervades life today.
And now, after these books that index on fear, I offer the simple, beautiful comfort of Ana Aranda’s picture book, Our Day of the Dead Celebration. Among these three, this is the one I’ll keep re-reading with our 6-year-old, although I’m also glad to have it for our elder kiddo who has been very interested in Dia De Los Muertos since they were very young, even though this is not a holiday from our family tradition. Aranda presents a joyful and colorful rendition of the way her family has celebrated this holiday that memorializes departed loved ones. They cook delicious foods from family recipes, share stories about the lives and interests of their departed family members, and celebrate their legacy. I have to admit, separating the grief of loss from the celebration of life does not come easily to me, and as an outsider to this holiday, I’m fascinated by the adjacency of this celebration to Halloween, which I’ve always experienced as a holiday probing discomfort of the unknown. I’m delighted to offer our kids a more positive view of our connection to the great beyond.
I have two more quick shout-outs: Scholastic News October 31, 2022 issue and Aquila’s October 2022 issue. Both explore famous curses (of the Brits who “discovered”, er, disturbed King Tut’s tomb in November 1922) and communication with the dead (debunked by famous magician Harry Houdini who stayed quiet after he croaked). Good, brief, educational fun for all ages.
Scholastic News: Edition 3. October 31, 2022. Target age: Gr3 [subscription info; if your kid brings this home already, you can try asking their school for a password to the digital version].