My turn on the Character Assassination Carousel with a nightmare of a children’s book

Nicole at Ninja Mom is a visionary. She created the Character Assassination Carousel, a place where parents can use expletives to describe safely vent about the seemingly endless list of lousy children’s books available for you and your little ones.  Last month, Katie from the Somewhat Sane Mom took a shot at Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.  She was an over-achiever too.  She went on to the plethora of other assorted hi-jinks had by those hyper-active monkeys in four other books.

This month, Nicole has generously given me a ticket to ride.

I give you, “There’s a Nightmare in My Closet” by Mercer Mayer.  This book is, bar-none, the worst children’s book I have ever read.

Before we finished page one, I knew we should stop reading it.  I had that mother’s intuition thing that pinged me, that little voice that said, “Get a new book, any book. Now.”  But I am optimist and I pushed that little voice down and replaced it with “Surely, it must get better.” Plus, it is only 15 sentences.  And I thought, “How can 15 sentences be so terrifyingly horrible?“

Let’s begin with the title of the book, There is a Nightmare in My Closet.  I am confident that children, not just American children, but all children have a fear of something lurking in their closet at some point.  For some, that fear passes quickly.  For others, it is packaged up with a fear of something lurking under the bed, something hiding in the bathroom behind the shower curtain, a fear of thunder and lightning, a fear of the dark or perhaps a combination of all of the above.

Was the author’s goal to test the power of suggestion with our little darlings?  The title of the book is not even a question.  It is a statement of fact.  So for those kiddos that are not harboring any fears, they will likely begin to wonder, “Did I miss something in there?  Perhaps there is nightmare in my closet too.”

However, you don’t have to be able to read to be injured by this book.  Even if you simply pull the book off the shelves and never read a single word, you still may increase the likelihood of terrifying your offspring.  Just look at the cover!  Can you see the creepy, large cretin hiding behind the door?

But, you still might think to yourself that tens of thousands of people have read this book and loved it. Perhaps you say to yourself, “This must be a book that makes children feel better about the dark or the closet.”  And let’s say you decide to take the book home and see what positive lessons are in store.

In summary: There are none.  This book will scare the shit out of your kids.

The book opens with narrator’s notion there used to be a nightmare in my closet.  Do you think the average preschooler understand present versus past tense?  No.

And even if they did, it is unlikely that even heard the tense in the opening sentence because they are too distracted by the creepy way the wind is blowing the curtains through the open window or the darkened vacuum that exists beyond the slightly ajar closet door or the frightened expression on the child’s face as he burrows down under the covers, defenselessly armed with toy weapons strewn across his chest.

If you are a glutton for punishment, you’ll move on to page two where the story starts its slide downhill.   The little boy precariously gets out of bed and goes over to close the closet door.  My kid’s closet door is irreparably broken and the dread of realizing that this sentence will probably create a huge problem for me tonight washes over me like a cold shower.

But we keep going.  The little boy says on page three that he is afraid to turn around and even look at the closet.  Are you kidding me?  This is the example I am going to leave my kid with tonight?  Be so afraid of being in your own room that you cannot even look around?  Duck and cover, little man.  You never know what might come out of the closet and get you?!

Next, the little guy arms himself with a rifle and cannon.  Now while I know full well that these are toys, I am quite certain that my kids now think that the best way to solve your problems with a full on military attack.  Right on!

As the story continues, the boy darkens the room and the closet door predictably opens.  You would think that now is the time to make the “nightmare” nice.  Or pretty.  Or seemingly harmless.

Hell no.

This creature is eight feet tall and has a freaking barbed tail! The author actually uses the word “creeping” to describe how the nightmare comes toward the boy and climbs up onto the bed, sitting at the foot, waiting to do who knows what to the little boy.

Next, the boy threatens to kill the nightmare…more violent problem solving…and then he actually shoots him.  And when the nightmare cries, and the author could be creating empathy or sympathy or concern, what reaction does the author create for the little boy?  A little remorse?  A little regret?  Nope.  He writes the boy is “mad.”

Great! So the lesson is that when you notice that someone is upset, you get pissy about how it ruins your day?  As a bonus, the boy chides and shames the nightmare a little for kicks and giggles.

At this point, my kids and I are so turned around, afraid, mad and confused, that we hardly know what to make of the fact that the eight foot creature and the boy climb into bed together.

So let me get this straight.   Just when you think it cannot get worse than feeding on children’s fears, let’s add in the possibility of bestiality/pedophilia with a man-sized, gap-toothed monster.

As for the grand finale?  A second Nightmare appears from inside in the closet with a crazy, devilish grin on his face and creeps toward the boy with intentions unknown and left unanswered.

The end.

I looked back to the inside front cover of this book to learn if this was published by a Satanic cult or as a joke like “Go the F*ck to Sleep” book.

No such luck.  Mercer Mayer wrote this book in 1968 and it was published by Dial Books under the heading of “A Pied Piper Book,” which makes a ton of sense since the Pied Piper lured innocent children away to their death.

The testimonial on the inside cover, written by the vaguely noted “School Library Journal” of some unknown school, library and journal, summarized that “the book has merits of sensitivity and comedy.”  That may explain why they have shared their endorsement anonymously.

In total, there is nothing sensitive or funny about this book. Simply put, it is a real honest-to-goodness nightmare.

Want more?  Be sure to check out Kathleen at Middletini next month.  I am sure she’ll have a rousing choice for the (awful) book of the month club.

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5 Comments

  1. We read this book..for some reason…and I actually had to HIDE the book. My poor son wouldn’t even look at it and he slept in our room for. Months!!

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