Stranger Danger, written and illustrated by Helena Bobbie Ross, is a picture book created to ensure that young children understand the danger of engaging with adults they don’t know. Unfortunately, it might frighten children more than help them.
As the book opens, a little girl named Nina is walking home with an older boy named Davy and asking questions: What is a stranger? What is danger? Why would a stranger want to give a little girl candy or a ride home? Davy explains that some adults hurt little kids because they were hurt when they were children. The thing to do in this situation is to yell “STRANGER DANGER!” and run away as fast as possible. How does Davy know all this? It seems a stranger tried to hurt him when he was little, but he ran before anything really bad could happen. Davy drops Nina off at her home and the story ends.
Children will have reasons to find this story terrifying and unsettling. Who is Davy? Why is he walking Nina home? Where are they coming from? What do these horrible, mean strangers look like? Do they look like the disturbing boogeymen this book’s illustrations suggest, or do these monstrous, unhappy people look like us? Why doesn’t Nina’s mom walk her home? Wouldn’t Nina’s mom save her from a stranger? This picture book provokes anxiety and an unhelpful unease. Additionally, it is rife with errors of punctuation and grammar, which alone ensure that it cannot be recommended for young readers.
Fear is a potentially crippling emotion. The most powerful and helpful literature for children invites readers to explore complicated feelings honestly and with imaginative richness. This book fails to achieve that standard, and parents will want to exercise caution when considering sharing it with their children.
Also available as an ebook.