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The Dark

The Dark by Lemony SnicketCome on, people, hasn’t the man won enough? Wasn’t his acceptance speech so wonderful that he could never ever be improved upon? Haven’t I already reviewed just about every book Klassen has written? Do I really have to talk about this one?

Okay, I will.

Laszlo is afraid of the dark. (So afraid that he has his flashlight handy on the first spread; a guy can’t be too prepared, ya’ know.) The personified dark lives in Laszlo’s big house and is ready to assert itself in closets, behind shower curtains  and, of course, in the basement. At night, the dark was everywhere, but during the day, it confined itself to the basement. He speaks to the dark each morning and makes a plan to visit it, thinking that perhaps a little visit to the dark’s room would mean the dark wouldn’t visit him in his room. 

One night, the dark visits the little boy and invites him to the basement. “‘I want to show you something,’ said the dark.” Now this invitation is a tad creepy, especially for those of us who have lived on this planet for a long time and have read too many V. C. Andrews novels and seen too many scary movies. But, armed with his flashlight and clad in his blue jammies, Laszlo looks for the dark and finally dares to walk down the steps to the basement, where he finds what the dark wants to show him.

Klassen’s illustrations are done in gouache and digitally manipulated. There is a lot of delicious black here from the pitch black endpapers to the lines of the staircases, the seams in the hardwood floors, and even the lines on Laszlo’s quilt and bedframe. So many straight lines too! The near-black page where Laszlo is in bed with his flashlight provides such a dramatic moment, one I cannot get out of my mind. A bit of his face is missing under the blanket and his little hand and weapon flashlight look so fragile as the dark utters his name.

And there is nary a knitting needle nor a hat nor a bear in sight!

Now, I do have a quibble. (The “quibble” is a time-honored part of any Caldecott or Notables discussion.) In this case, my quibble is actually a question, and not one of those I-already-know-the-answer-and-I-am-just-being-clever-questions either. If you have the book, turn to the page where Laszlo looks super tiny on the far left hand of the spread, at the top of the stairs. The flashlight is doing a grand job. Now, turn the page. The top of the flashlight is yellow (meaning it is working), but the giant beam of light is gone. The beam of light is absent upon the page turns. That doesn’t make sense to me. Can someone explain it?

I LOVE that that flashlight never appears again — letting us know that Laszlo is no longer afraid of the dark. Indeed, he is able to sleep without it, play without it and visit the dark without it! So satisfying.

I know someone really smart out there is going to be able to explain the mystery of the missing beam for my little brain. Usually, I rely on my second graders for explanations, but they are equally befuddled.

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Hmm. Maybe the flashlight beam can’t penetrate the truly deep dark of the basement as easily? Or it’s running out of batteries? Not really satisfying answers, are they.

  2. Jon Klassen is a genius and I will never get tired of fresh material from him! I loved this book. I think that one of the best parts of any picture book is that there is that bit of interpretation left up to the child, so that you can ask the question…what do you think? I love hearing the answers a child can come up with – some totally sensible, others completely ridiculous. But that’s okay, because that is what is supposed to happen when you let your imagination run wild.
    Thanks for this great review!

  3. OK, so the fact is that I’m not wild about Mr. Klassen’s books. I admire him – I heard him speak and read in LA and he was charming, funny, great with kids and adults. I don’t appreciate his art. I think I’m not sophisticated enough as a viewer of art to really get what he is trying to do. I just know what I like and what I don’t, although I’m open to letting illustrations and books grow on me. I think I love color too much.
    This book is creepy and scared my son when we read it. He hadn’t been afraid of the dark before that. I don’t like books that introduce problems to kids that they don’t have – that we as adults did have growing up years ago. And yes, I agree there are some pages where the flashlight beam is missing or wrong or something… It has been a while since I read it. My son is interested in art, so he looked at it over and over for the art, but wouldn’t let me read it to him.

    And can I go on record as saying that:
    1. I don’t watch horror or scarey stuff and never have, but
    2. I would NEVER have gone to the basement and opened a dresser drawer if I heard a voice calling me!!!!!!!
    I appreciate that the end helps children understand somehow that this child has conquered (maybe) his fear.
    I’m done. Hope I don’t offend.

  4. Allison,
    I actually wondered the same thing about being scared. It’s not really part of the criteria, but I did wonder.

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