In a world of adorable, hug-inducing, warm-butterfly-feelings children’s books, there’s the occasional shadow hanging around at the edges of all that light, reminding us to come to the ghoulish side instead. There was a time between the 70’s to the early 90’s, when fiction for children and young adults was all about social realism. Gothic tropes never truly went out of style, and in the world of children’s literature — whether or not Gothic tropes are meant for younger audiences is an often-debated topic — kids are picking up horror and dark humor stories now more and more.
And for those of you that have been missing Edward Gorey’s sly humor, we have just the perfect book for you. Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen teamed up to create Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs, a book of ironic and witty last moments in the lives of a variety of animals. Readers will be reminded especially of Gorey’s famous abecedarian The Gashlycrumb Tinies, where young children meet their untimely deaths in gruesome, yet alphabetically educating, ways — complete with whimsical illustrations by Edward Gorey himself.
Last Laughs is grouped by animal type, starting with a slew of fowl and other farm animals — who meet their unfortunate deaths with a head butt or cream-ation — to our aquatic favorites, such as the poor Narwhal, and even a few insects at the end (though whether or not we feel sorry for them is debatable). While it is not an ABC book, there is no doubt children of all ages will be drawn to its frightening premise and to its gruesomeness and ghoulishness. Neil Gaiman himself argues, “I think horror has always been integral to children’s fiction. Look at Hansel and Gretel. Fiction teaches kids how to survive in the world.”
The illustrations by Jeffery Stewart Timmins are vastly from different from Gorey’s. Whereas Edward Gorey was refined and very tongue-in-cheek macabre with his black and white illustrations, Timmins’s are more of the slapstick variety in tones of browns, blacks, and sickly yellows, with creatures that meet their ends in more silly ways. The wordplay in the epitaphs makes death a slightly ridiculous notion and even a little bit fun. One of my personal favorites is:
This grave is peaceful,
The tombstone shaded,
but I’m not here—
I’ve been cream-ated.
- Knight, Linsay. "Why Kids Love Scary Stories." Randomhouse. n.p., Web. 10 December 2015.
- Lewis, J Patrick, and Yolen, Jane. Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs. Watertown: Charlesbridge. 2012. Print.