What sends children peacefully to sleep? Last week I travelled to a wedding in Sweden with my two Canadian grandhildren. An important role for me, Granny, was to help wide awake, jet lagged, overtired grandchildren fall asleep - on flights, in churches on mattresses on the floor and in strange hotel rooms. I discovered an unlikely book that did the trick - Nicky and the Big Bad Wolves by Valeri Gorbachev.
It was so scary it ought to have done the opposite. On Amazon it had 'nightmares' emblazoned across it as if to excuse the scariness and say to over-protective parents the book was OK to read as nightmare therapy. But my two and a half year old grandson didn't need nightmare therapy. He just wanted to see some very scary wolves. He would stare intensely for around ten minutes at each page of yellow eyes, pink tongues and white fangs.
I was left to guess what was going through his mind - the process of absorbing fear seemed to require the utmost concentration and this was what stilled him. The cosy pages with Mother rabbit didn't have the same impact and when there were no more wolves left to look at he just wanted me to flick quickly through the remaining pages, reach the happy ending before promptly falling asleep.
Like Fairy Tales, Nicky and the Big Bad Wolves seems to make children confront extreme feelings deep within them. Doing so is evidently a tiring business.