MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
FAMILIES AND THE FORCES OF DARKNESS
I’ll start by introducing my family, since lots of my stories have them in it (also they’re pretty great). There’s me (who you know), and my mom and dad. Then there are my mom’s parents, my Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins. They live in a big house with black shutters, on top of a tall hill that’s fun to roll down. I see them most Saturday mornings for brunch, and Thursdays when Grandpa Jenkins picks me up from school because my parents have to work late. I like Thursdays. Grandpa Jenkins takes me to the park, and sometimes we get hot fudge sundaes. But we don’t tell my parents, or Grandma Jenkins.
My dad’s parents, my Nai Nai and Ye Ye, also live very close to us. They live in an apartment in a tall brick building, and I see them every Wednesday, which is the night my parents go out to dinner. On Wednesdays, my Nai Nai picks me up from school, and we go shopping in Chinatown. I love Chinatown. There are so many good smells and new foods there, and my Nai Nai’s friends always pat my cheek and give me candy. Plus, the grocery store owner keeps a jar at the counter with two tiny turtles inside, who I’ve named Green Eggs and Ham, and who I’ll take home as pets someday, I’ve decided.
I love my family just the way they are now, with no new baby to get in the way.
In fact, when I told my mom this morning at breakfast that I was writing my book, I said that not wanting a new baby was going to be a BIG theme. And themes are things that happen again and again, like when you put your fingers through the small holes in the fence outside and they get stuck. Then your mom has to use soap to get them out, and she says, “Why did you do that? This happens every time!” Which means if something’s a theme, it happens A LOT.
My mom liked the idea of my book so much that she giggled and said that she couldn’t wait to read the story of my life. She didn’t giggle when I told her about its theme, though, and put her arm around my shoulders and said, “Cilla, sweetheart, I know it’s a lot to get used to. If there’s anything you want to talk about, I’m always here.”
This was convenient, because I actually did want to talk about something, which was, “Could we please get Choco-Rex cereal instead of just cornflakes?” (Because our no-sugary cereal rule is silly, and Choco-Rex has marshmallows shaped like dinosaurs AND turns regular milk into chocolate milk inside the bowl.) My mom didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no either. She just blinked and looked kind of confused, so I think there’s hope.
But back to my family. Having my grandparents so close is GREAT, because it means I have six people to take care of me and play with me and hear my stories all the time. Plus I get six of everything, like birthday gifts and cookies and hugs when I scrape myself. Of course, I also have six people who won’t hesitate to say, “Priscilla Lee-Jenkins, what are you doing, Young Lady?!” and recently, six people saying, “So, are you excited to be a big sister?” (The answer is NO.)
But it also means that, in very, very difficult situations, I have six members of my family to help me.
Like when I had to deal with the Forces of Darkness, which, when I was little, I was sure lived in my closet.
See, I don’t like closets. I’m not afraid of them anymore, now that I’m eight and a half. But on nights like tonight, when I’m lying in bed writing because I can’t fall asleep and the dark is sometimes scary, I have to admit that I still think they’re Highly Suspicious. Why build a small room just for your clothes? Why hang your clothes up when they’re so much easier to find in piles on your floor? This is just asking for trouble. If you build a small, dark room and then put a door in front of it, whatever it’s hiding isn’t going to be very nice.
Looking at my closet door, it’s easy to remember how scared I felt when I was little. Because when my parents said good night and the light turned off, I knew there were monsters in my closet, waiting. I imagined big, slimy monsters, with tails and horns and smelly feet. I imagined tiny monsters, no higher than my socks. And I’d call for my mom and dad, because even small monsters are scary.
My mom would say, “Cilla, there are no such things as monsters,” and my dad would open the closet and say, “See? Monster free. Feel better now?”
But the answer was no, because everyone knows that monsters learn to hide themselves when they’re in monster school.
My parents would kiss me on the cheek and leave. I’d lie, waiting, and then something would rustle, or I’d imagine something had rustled, or was about to rustle.
So I’d call my parents and begin the whole thing all over again. Night after night. And nothing they could say or do would make me feel any better. Which is when my grandparents got involved.
“Monsters in the closet?” my Grandma Jenkins said, putting her hands on her hips and frowning. “Nonsense. You should just let her be,” she said, turning to my mom.
But my mom didn’t like that idea.
My Nai Nai said, “There are no such things as monsters. Such an imagination.” She made a tsking noise and shook her head.
And even my Grandpa Jenkins, who my grandma says will believe anything (which means he’s the BEST kind of reader there is), told me, “You know, the monsters are just made up. Like all your other stories. Hey, maybe you could make up a story about your monsters, and imagine that they’re friendly.…”
But this wasn’t helpful either, because monsters are Serious Business—you can’t just control them with a story. And monsters ARE NOT friendly. These people.
Which is when my Ye Ye invited me to come with him to run errands, which I sometimes do because I like to hear his stories, and because he needs my help picking out new ties (never green, sometimes blue, polka dots always a plus).
But that day, Ye Ye didn’t drive us to the tie shop, or the bookstore, or the tailor, or any of the places we usually go. Instead, we went to a big store with frames and mirrors everywhere, and over to a wall filled with metal poster racks.
“So, Cilla,” Ye Ye said, looking serious as he flipped through the racks. “You are having trouble with monsters.”
“I know, I know.” I sighed. “They aren’t real, I’m being silly, there’s no such thing—”
“Well,” Ye Ye interrupted me, but nicely. “I don’t know for sure.”
“Really?” I looked at him, eyes wide.
“Really.” Ye Ye shrugged. “Monsters are tricky. So I have an idea. Just in case there are bad things—”
“Slimy things,” I added.
“Smelly things?” he asked.
“Yes,” I confirmed. “With big feet.”
“Well, just in case there are any slimy, scaly, big-feet monsters, we can do something to fight them. Maybe…” He flipped through the rack and held up a poster. “This one?”
And there was a picture of a unicorn, big and bright and standing by a purple forest.
“It’s beautiful,” I gasped.
“Well,” Ye Ye said, “we’ll get it, and frame it, and it will hang—”
“On my closet door!” I said, finally understanding.
“Then,” Ye Ye went on, “if there are monsters, the unicorn will—”
“Fight them off!” I cried.
“Exactly,” he said. “Using its magical horn.”
“And the powers of the moon,” I exclaimed.
“And the stars,” he added.
“To send the Forces of Darkness back into the closet!” I finished, triumphantly.
My Ye Ye smiled, mussing my hair. “So smart.”
So Ye Ye and I got a sparkly silver frame for the poster. Then we went home and hung my unicorn right smack dab on the closet door (high enough to catch tall monsters, low enough to catch tiny ones—we were expert monster hunters by this point). Then we celebrated with ice cream. Every night after that, when my parents tucked me in and said good night, my unicorn took care of anything that came her way.
And that’s the story of how I, Cilla Lee-Jenkins, discovered that I have the best Ye Ye ever. One who understands the power of unicorns, and also, the importance of taking action when dealing with the Forces of Darkness, even if they’re probably not there.
And even though, every once in a loooooong while, I still ask my dad to check the closet before I go to sleep, you’ll be pleased to know that I don’t believe in monsters anymore.
But I definitely believe in unicorns.
Text copyright © 2017 by Susan Tan
Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Dana Wulfekotte