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How do you feel about scary stories for kids? When I was a kid, Goosebumps was a popular series, but, honestly, Nancy Drew was too suspenseful for me! On the other hand, my daughter loves “scary” books (at the same age that I couldn’t handle them).

The book I’m telling you about today is a self-admitted scary story. It’s right in the title: The Night Gardener: A Scary Story. But I don’t think the point of this story is to scare. This book had me hooked till the end and left me thoughtful.

Short Summary: The Night Gardener is the story of Molly and Kip, an Irish brother and sister who find themselves alone and friendless in an 1800’s England. The only work Molly can find is at a creepy manor partially overtaken by a large, evil-looking tree and inhabited by a pale and sickly-looking family. The force at work on them gradually effects Molly once she finds a doorway to a magic room where the tree bestows gifts. The gifts both satisfy and kindle the deepest desire in the recipient, making them dependent on the tree. But what does the Night Gardener do while the household is caught in nightmares and how is he connected to the tree? Will Molly and Kip be able to escape?

My Take: I was intrigued when the book opened with quotes from Paradise Lost and Aesop. This is a well-conceived and wonderfully crafted story. It cuts to the heart with big questions like “Where is the line between the truth, a story and a lie?” and “What do our deepest desires say about who we are?” and “Where does courage come from?”

A major theme from the first pages of the book is truth, lies, and stories. Molly just can’t seem to help telling a whopper on every occasion. She may be a great story-teller, but it seems hard for her to tell the truth. In the end, Molly learns that stories have their place and that truth is an essential part of trust. Molly’s final realization is bound to get kids thinking:

“A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens ’em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide.”

Night Gardener quote

Another theme woven through the story is finding courage. Molly’s brother, Kip, has a club foot, and since he was little has used a crunch made by his father. He named it Courage. Both Molly and Kip need to find the courage not only to face the supernatural forces at work but also, and more importantly, the courage to do the right thing, even when it’s scary. Kip may seem weak physically, but he is the one, in the end, who shows the greatest courage.

I would not recommend The Night Gardener book for impressionable kids who are frightened easily or are prone to nightmares. It is scary, but on a kid level (it was not scary to me as an adult, but it would have creeped me out as a kid). And there are a couple of deaths, which occur (mostly) “off-screen.”

The ideas woven through this book and Auxier’s vivid use of language make this a worthwhile read. If you read aloud to your older kids, this would be a great book that could spark some interesting conversations. I’d recommend this for middle-schoolers and up.

Do you like scary stories?

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