I just finished a good audiobook: Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller. Jason Segel reads the book, and his acting background (How I Met Your Mother, Despicable Me, etc.) enables him to do a great job bringing life to the many various characters.
Charlie Laird has a new stepmother that he despises, and an ongoing problem sleeping. Every night, as soon as he falls asleep, he is tortured by a nightmare witch who looks just like his stepmother. In the waking world, his stepmother runs an herbal shop and sells potions. Get the connection? So does Charlie. He’s convinced that his stepmother, Charlotte, is actually a witch and it frustrates him to no end that his father and brother refuse to see it. Instead, the two are in love with her and fiercely defend her against Charlie’s verbal assaults. What’s a kid to do?
For starters, Charlie tries to give up sleeping. This works about as well as you might expect. His schoolwork suffers and his temper suffers even more. He lashes out at everyone around him. His three best friends try to help, but they are suffering from their own nightmares.
Things inevitably escalate, and Charlie finds himself physically transported to the Netherworld where nightmares live and discovers they’re plotting to take over the daytime world. Can Charlie defeat the witch and save his family, his friends and himself?
There are some great takeaways in this novel. Fears must be faced, and doing so makes you stronger. Things are not always what they seem, and our perspective can skew things so that we can’t see reality. Standing together always makes us stronger. And something really valuable for kids is that we have nightmares for a reason.
Sometimes Charlie made me a bit crazy because of his vehement dislike of Charlotte. I realize, as an adult, that sleeplessness can do terrible things to us, but that might be hard for a child to understand. It would be interesting to see how a child feels about this part of the book. Occasionally, Segel’s “acting choices” seemed off to me. I would catch myself thinking, “That’s not how I would read it.” But, he did write the book, so I figure he probably knows what it sounded like in his head when he wrote it.
Put this book into the hands of kids who are interested in dreams, who enjoy scary stories, adventure, fantasy, strong male characters, or good friendship stories. It might also appeal to kids who have lost a parent, or have acquired a stepparent that they’re having trouble adjusting to.