{Book Review} Keep in a Cold, Dark Place by Michael F. Stewart

Keep in a Cold, Dark Place
Michael F. Stewart
Publication date: May 18, 2017
Genres: Horror, Middle-Grade

Reaching for her dream, Limpy unleashes a cute, fluffy, NIGHTMARE …
Keep in a cold, dark place. That’s what’s written like some ancient law on every bag of potatoes the family farms. And it’s where Limpy fears she will always remain.
It’s also carved on a box of spheres she discovers in the cellar. Spheres that hatch.
Cute at first, the creatures begin to grow. Then the chickens disappear. The cat is hunted. And something sets the barn ablaze. To survive, Limpy will need to face her greatest fear. The whole family will. Or they may end up in a cold, dark place indeed.

Fear has the power to hold us back and prevent us from moving forward, thereby pilfering our authenticity. Fear comes in all shapes and sizes. There is a secret – whatever we fear is NOT the problem. It is our reaction to the fear. Becoming aware of our fears is crucial to our ability to survive in this vastly changing world. Seen as self-limiting, fear causes us to cling to the “cold, dark places” of our present lives and mistake them for solutions to our longings. When fears are called out for what they are, we experience the freedom and power to accomplish our wildest dreams. It is in this state that wondrous battles are won.

How do we convey this to our children? During their formative years, our children will experience a myriad of fears. As a parent of a young Mensa student, I know the inner turmoil I feel when he expresses an unwillingness to take on a new challenge. There are many aspects of his cognitive and social development that I have yet to see. The challenge I face is simple: how do I teach him to confront his fears and not overwhelm him?

So, I really began to ponder the use of modern literature to teach mindset mastery concepts to our children. Children excel when it comes to using their imaginations and the fantasy genre is an excellent tool when used to teach concepts such as overcoming fears. Well-written, developmentally appropriate middle-grade fantasy, such as Keep in a Cold, Dark Pace, works not only to provide entertaining content; but, it also gently introduces the topics parents wish to discuss with their young in thought-provoking, narrative form.

Stewart introduces us to 13-year old Limphetta O’Malley, a young tactile artist with the ability to weave tapestry from potato sacks with dreams of attending Hillcrest School for the Arts – a wondrous “castle, guarded by a twine dragon.” Living an angst-ridden life, she sought to climb “up beyond the borders of her town, and the ring of thorns” encircling her existence. She can never seem to appear her “hulking” Irish father, Patrick and is constantly plagued by the ghost of her mother who passed while bringing her into the world.

Yet, this brave girl battles another fear – “wasting the rest of life in a cold, dark place.” With the weight of the world on her emotionally-frail shoulders and in the midst of an internal tug-of-war, she unearths an antique box entombed under the barn’s floor. Like Pandora, she unknowingly unleashes something evil that will change the course of her young life.

Reminiscent of a popular fairy tale, this story speaks to the power of the mind when dealing with fears. Children’s literature has long been used to impart social value, as well as entertain. However, it is also used to jar the young mind and inspire questions and the rethinking of societal and psychological norms. Stewart’s book speaks to the latter and provides a fantastical story in an immensely safe realm for exploration and self-identification. This work reads like music. Stewart showcases his literary talent with vivid descriptions throughout the novel.
“Limpy picked up the blue ball and polished it on her smock as if it were an apple. Now when the light struck the shell, colors swirled upon it like oil on water. She stared, mesmerized. A rainbow of colors churned and swam across the surface and her mind spun with them, eddying and turning. An inner black fire swelled, pulsed, purpled and spread on into red, yellow, green and a brilliant electric blue. As the colors looped, Limpy fell into them, flew with them. Until they faded with the light outside.”
(Kindle Location 538)
Moreover, Stewart shares his immensely poetic nature as Limpy expresses her feelings about art.
“art comes from everywhere. It . . . it can be found in the soil of the farm. It can be found in the calluses of my fingertips and a rough woven sack.My art is trapped in potato sacks. I want more than twine. I want silk and brilliant blues, the blues you see in glaciers, greens from the wings of emerald butterflies. I want to free my art and free myself to become who I hope I can be!!!”
(Kindle Location 592)
Several readers have likened this work to Gremlins, as the little creatures begin as cute and fuzzy little things. While there are some similarities, I present a corollary argument to this. Gremlins was a gruesome and wholly inappropriate blockbuster for children. Lacking a strong theme, Gremlins is not a great comparison. For with the little mogwai, water is what compels their transformation. Keep In A Cold Dark place teaches the reader about the power of fear and how to diminish this power. Parents, librarians, and teachers, you may relax and feel comfortable sharing this work with young readers. Further, some readers have expressed interest in pictures. With Stewart's artistic ability pen descriptive textual illustrations, there is little need to an illustrated version of this work.

Limphy’s ability to weave marvelous tapestry from mere burlap had little to do with her present situation - angry father, silly sibling, the farm, and art school dreams. It all had to do with her ability to leverage the talent AND confront her fears in order to overcome her situation. The moral of the story is simple – there are things that feed fears, resulting blurred emotional and psychological vision. Sometimes you have to chisel away at the hard exterior surrounding the thing you fear to get to the true fear.
...remember that the greatest monsters are those we create ourselves.
(Kindle Location 2324)
Stewart is a literary wizard, for he has brought to life a little girl and her family with the mere tip of his pen. He masterfully shares an important story for all readers.

About Michael

Michael F. Stewart is winner of both the 2015 Claymore Award and the 2014 inaugural Creation of Stories Award for best YA novel at the Toronto International Book Fair.

He likes to combine storytelling with technology and pioneered interactive storytelling with Scholastic Canada, Australia, and New Zealand’s, anti-cyberbullying program Bully For You. In addition to his award winning Assured Destruction series, he has authored four graphic novels with Oxford University Press Canada’s Boldprint series. Publications of nonfiction titles on Corruption and Children’s Rights are published by Scholastic and early readers are out with Pearson Education.

For adults, Michael has written THE SAND DRAGON a horror about a revenant prehistoric vampire set in the tar sands, HURAKAN a Mayan themed thriller which pits the Maya against the MS-13 with a New York family stuck in the middle, 24 BONES an urban fantasy which draws from Egyptian myth, and THE TERMINALS–a covert government unit which solves crimes in this realm by investigating them in the next.

Herder of four daughters, Michael lives to write in Ottawa where he was the Ottawa Public Library’s first Writer in Residence. To learn more about Michael and his next projects visit his website at www.michaelfstewart.com or connect via Twitter @MichaelFStewart.

Michael is represented by Talcott Notch.

The Literary Apothecary has partnered with Xpresso Book Tours to bring this book review.



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