As his sly 2013 Caldecott winner (“This Is Not My Hat”) attests, no artist uses black pages as effectively as Jon Klassen. On the cover of this equally inky effort, a preternaturally neat little boy in stay-pressed footy pajamas stands in a rectangle of light spilling through an open door into a sea of darkness. “Laszlo was afraid of the dark.” Lemony Snicket’s succinct text is as deadpan as ever, and though he eschews the arch asides that characterize his “Unfortunate” tales for older readers, he does inject one oddly out-of-rhythm page of solid text on which he abandons his small hero in favor of a mini-lecture about the value of contrasts. Too bad. What makes this book stand out above other books on childhood fears is the fact that Laszlo negotiates directly with the living, breathing dark — and comes to terms with it in a way that children will understand intuitively. No lectures (or adults!) are needed. These cunningly designed illustrations — wedges, cones and arcs of light floating in blackness — illuminate the story with impeccable grace. Young readers will shiver at the sight of the grinning bureau, its bottom drawer open to reveal a mouthful of pointed-light-bulb teeth. And they’ll be comforted by the identical opening and closing scenes, where little Laszlo plays with his trucks in the light of the setting — and then rising — sun. Those familiar with Ezra Jack Keats’s tale of a young boy and his adventures on a “Snowy Day” will recognize the homage to Peter’s iconic four-poster bed in Laszlo’s bedroom, a place of safety for two young lads 50 years apart but connected through the shared act of stepping bravely into a changing world and growing up in the process.
— Kristi Elle Jemtegaard