Dark spaces tend to feed the imagination in an undesirable manner, since the lack of light impairs our vision and heightens the sense of the unknown. In The Bear Under the Stairs, this dark, unknown space takes the form of the storage area under the stairs in William’s house, where the young protagonist is convinced lives a scary grizzly bear who is out to eat him for tea!
In typical kid-logic, William then does the only thing he can think to do — feed the bear periodically by throwing scraps of food inside and then hastily slamming the door shut (“Wham, bang, thump!”), in lieu of the bear eating him.
Initially his parents are unaware of his irrational behaviour, but the unpleasant truth eventually comes wafting out — literally — and William is forced to confront his darkest fears.
The text and shadowy illustrations do a great job of blending reality with William’s ostensibly vivid imagination, and the suspenseful atmosphere doesn’t let up until the fateful moment when William and his mom finally enter the space under the stairs to sniff out (pun intended) the truth. Even though William eventually conquers his fear of grizzly bears and the space under the stairs, the playful illustrations leave the possibility open that the bear may have been more real than imagined…
Beyond being an entertaining read, this reassuring tale also shows kids that it’s better to face their fears head-on rather than to allow their imagination to get the better of them.