September 09, 2014

What There is Before There is Anything There: A Scary Story

by Liniers
Translated by Elisa Amado
Groundwood Books
24 pp.
Ages 4-7
September 2014

When it's time for bed, many of us are so thankful for the respite. But what of those that imagine or anticipate all manner of frights linked with the simple act of going to bed and the turning off of the light?

The little boy in What There is Before There is Anything There knows what will happen.  His parents wish him good night, turn off the bedroom light, and then his nightly visitors appear from what was his ceiling.  That dark expanse above his head becomes a black hole from which one odd little creature will float down, using his umbrella to soften his descent. Then it stands at the end of his bed and stares at the boy.  More quirky creatures, including monsters, a clown and a cat, come and circle his bed, also staring and speechless.  

What follows is what truly scares the boy.  A black, shapeless entity, with twig-like extensions, reaches towards the boy, now hunkered down in his bed, and speaks the only words he hears, "I am what there is before there is anything there." (pg. 17) The boy's solution is to run to his parents' bedroom for safety.

Though most picture books that want to reassure young ones that the monsters and bogeymen and shadows that frighten them at night are not real, What There is Before There is Anything There doesn't offer that consoling reassurance.  Argentinian cartoonist Liniers wouldn't lower himself to such a pat storyline. After all, there is no reason for anything to change because he is in his parents' bed: the darkness is everywhere in the house and he still brings the imagination that created the creatures.  In fact, Liniers' cross-hatched darkness is perhaps more frightening than a fully-darkened page.  This darkness is suspended around the boy's room, pressing down its crushing load of fear all about him.  I won't tell you how it ends, but be prepared to offer an explanation before you read it to someone young.  They'll expect an appropriate and satisfying answer.  Otherwise you'll never get them into their own bed again. (Maybe kidding, maybe not.)

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