cover image The Dark at the Top of the Stairs

The Dark at the Top of the Stairs

Sam McBratney. Candlewick Press (MA), $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-56402-640-8

As in his Guess How Much I Love You, McBratney spins an ample, emotionally ripe tale out of a familiar, even slight premise. A wise old mouse lives with his three young mice in the corner of a cellar, and at bedtime he asks them what they'd like to do the next day. One night, all three clamor to see ""the dark at the top of the stairs"" where the ""monster"" lives, and the old mouse, who knows that ""sooner or later all young mice will try to see the dark at the top of the stairs,"" agrees to take them. Perfectly capturing the edgy glee and derring-do of a trip to dangerous territory, McBratney builds the suspense with each well-chosen word. When the four finally reach the door at the top of the stairs, a glimpse of the shadow of a seemingly gigantic cat sends them scurrying (""bumpety-bump and slippity-slide and tumble-thump"") back down the staircase, ""where they landed in a wriggle and a heap before making a dash for warm, safe, wonderful home."" In his picture book debut, Bates provides endearing depictions of these (at least temporarily) bold mice; his compositions and mouse's-eye perspectives create enticingly eerie shadows and angles. Rendered on textured surfaces, his crayon-pencil art at times has the feel of needlepoint, sweetly balancing the shivers in this tale. Ages 4-7. (Mar.)