“Some people are a little bit scary,” thinks a little girl with wild red hair. “But then, sometimes (most times, maybe, I think) sometimes they really are not.”
That’s the lesson to be learned in The Little Bit Scary People, Emily Jenkins’s warm, wise story for young readers, accompanied by the evocative illustrations of German illustrator Alexandra Boiger.
Somewhere in a big city a little red-haired girl and her scruffy black dog encounter a menacing-seeming cast of characters. There’s a punky skateboarder, a belligerent bus driver, an oddball student who mutters to herself in science class, a feisty Goth teen, and more.
All of these figures, the little girl confides to her dog, seem “a little bit scary.” But that’s before she lets her imagination take her to happier places.
She can picture the bus driver making a special pancake breakfast for her children, the skateboarder snuggling in bed with his cat, and the student learning to ride a bike with the loving help of her mom. And, suddenly, none of these people seem scary anymore.
(In fact, it turns out, the Goth teenager is the little girl’s sister – and she has a dad and brother who are similarly transformed.)
Jenkins, whose other books include “What Happens on Wednesdays” and “That New Animal,” has a lovely touch when it comes to conveying the warm interiors of family life. Boiger’s characters deftly demonstrate the speed with which a hint of menace can melt into kindly quirkiness.
Even the settings switch from stark to lush and cool to warm each time the little girl uses the laser beam of her imagination to find the sweetness under a daunting exterior.
Jenkins’s story is intended for children, but its message is universal. It’s hard to fear anyone once you’ve pictured him with a kitten on his lap. We all have a soft center somewhere and often it requires only a bit of creative thinking to locate it.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor.