My seven-year-old son Noah slammed shut the book he was reading and looked up at me with fear in his eyes.
“Quick!” he said. “Talk to me! Make me think of something else!”
I could see that whatever he had just read had terrified him, so I immediately started talking to him about the first thing I could think of – a party he had coming up that weekend. We talked about all the fun he would have, and he seemed to calm down.
I hoped that would be it. But over the next few days I could see he was still anxious about something. He was getting distressed and teary, but he didn’t want to talk to me about it.
Eventually, he opened up. He’d read in a book, from the Superhero School series, about a custard monster. Apparently, when people eat custard, a monster grows in their stomach. Because he’d eaten custard when he was younger, he was terrified a monster would grow in his stomach.
Admittedly, it’s a pretty scary concept. But I thought that once I knew what had been disturbing him, I’d be able to help him conquer his fear.
Not that easy.
LISTEN: The perfect book to read to your kids on their first day of school.
I showed him that the book was fiction, meaning that the story had been made up. I told him that if custard monsters were real, there would be stories on the news about them, and there weren’t. I explained to him that his dad had eaten hundreds of custard tarts in his life, and he’d never come to any harm.
It was no good. He was still terrified.
In desperation, I went online and tracked down an email address for the book’s UK author, Alan MacDonald. I wrote to him, explaining the situation. I didn’t know whether the email would even get to him, but I couldn’t think of anything else to try.
The next morning, a reply was in my inbox. There were a few lines addressed to me, apologising that the story had caused my son anxiety and suggesting that the series was suited to slightly older readers. Then there was a letter written to my son: