Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
A review of American Literature from the late 20th and early 21st centuries will uncover a substantial amount of horror fiction geared towards young readers and parents of small children. Most of it isn’t horrific, but rather horrible. Yet, there are some rare gems, like the Scary Stories series and some of the Goosebumps franchise. One of the best is Nightmares: Poems to Trouble your Sleep by Jack Prelutsky.
Nightmares is a collection of twelve short poems initially published in 1976 and reprinted in 1993. Each poem focuses on a different creature or entity from children’s dreams and is accompanied by stunning illustrations by the late Arnold Lobel. Monsters encountered include: the bogeyman, the dragon of death, the troll, and the wizard. All of the rhymes are delivered in a fast-paced and intelligent-beat enjoyable to all ages.
The best way to describe Jack Prelutsky is as a mix of Shel Silverstein and Stephen King. The writing is fun and fantastical, yet deliciously graphic. The following is a stanza from The Ghoul:
“He cracks their bones and snaps their backs
and squeezes out their lungs,
he chews their thumbs like candy snacks
and pulls apart their tongues.”
Interestingly, Prelutsky doesn’t shy away from advanced concepts or words, making Nightmares a great way to improve your child’s vocabulary. Words like “evanescent” and “misbegotten,” are rarely seen in even young adult literature, but within the Nightmares poetry collection they are common place. The result is a smart book which has artistic merit even to well-educated adults.
The greatest criticism which can be leveled at the book is that it is too short. Almost all of the poems are less than 200 words in length and there are only twelve of them. While no word count was undertaken for this review, it is highly likely that combined the twelve poems run no more than 1,500 to 2,000 words.
If you want more, you are in luck. Like Shel Silverstein, Prelutsky has been quite prolific. Most of his collections have not focused on horrific themes, but there are a few including the follow-up to Nightmares, The Headless Horseman Rides Tonight: More Poems to Trouble your Sleep. Now in his 70s, Jack Prelutsky is still publishing today with two collections appearing in 2013.
So, if you have kids or are just a child at heart, consider picking up Nightmares: Poems to Trouble your Sleep or one of his other works. You will not be disappointed.