I often get asked about what influences my work as a writer. Inspired by the amazing website Kindertrauma–which is right up my alley–I’m compiling all of my childhood (and some adult) terrors.

Mosquitos 1

One of the things that lead to my becoming a writer was my extraordinary love of reading, and this was instilled in me by my parents, who read to me every night before bed and sometimes during the day (they also taught me to read before I was in kindergarten, so I could disappear into my room at any time and read on my own—which I’m sure they did for their benefit more than mine, actually).

I have a number of favorite childhood books, among them Rabbit and Skunk and Spooks, The Penguin that Hated the Cold, The Monster at the End of this Book, and The Courage of Sarah Noble (this last one was hugely popular in our area because it was about a real event in my hometown). Each left an indelible impression on me, but one that frightened me—but made me understand a few things about death, moving on, and taking responsibility for your actions—was called Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.

The book, written by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, is a retelling of a West African legend. It was published in 1975 (I was four) and won a Caldecott Medal. In summary, a mosquito tells a foolish story to an iguana, which starts a chain of events that eventually leaves the land in darkness.

My dad, in particular, was great at reading this story, because it had a lot of sounds in it, and he enjoyed making the sounds so the animals on the page came to life. These vivid readings, however, didn’t necessarily distract from the hypnotic, sometimes scary, imagery.

Here’s a tour of the pages that had a profound effect on me. What children’s book in your life left permanent impressions?

Why Mosquitoes Buzz 2

These two pages in particular affected me most. I loved staring at the bunny in the bottom left-hand corner, because I thought he was cute. The thing I was most drawn to on the opposite page was the dead baby owlet on the bottom right. The way its neck was broken looked so painful, and it made me feel sad.


Why Mosquitos Buzz Dead Owlet

Here’s a close-up of the dead owlet.


Why Mosquitoes Buzz 3

The owlet just holding her dead baby made me sad, but also, I was upset by the fact that the surviving owlets at first looked like they were happy their sibling was gone. My father explained to me, though, that they were begging for attention, because when a parent loses one child, the other children are often compromised for a while as the parent grieves. Yes. Pretty heavy shit for a four or five year old, but I will tell you I’m one of the most well-adjusted people when it comes to certain things in life because I learned these lessons so early. And that should be the point of a children’s book.


Why Mosquitoes Buzz 4

I hate monkeys to this day probably due to the picture on the right. I mean, the damn thing looks ravenous and scary, and look at those poor little owlets hiding their eyes! This page completely freaked me out.


Why Mosquitoes Buzz 5

I loved this illustration of the iguana—how could anyone look so grumpy? I remember thinking. To this day, when I think about the word grumpy, or if someone asks why I’m grumpy or if someone else is grumpy, this picture pops into my head.

About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies; her traditionally published books include a short story collection, THE SHADOWS BEHIND. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as co-host of the DARK DISCUSSIONS podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 ORCHARD, and is a member of the New England Horror Writers. Follow her adventures at

Posted on July 3, 2017, in Tot Terrors and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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