Young readers might be surprised to pick up a copy of Emily Tetri’s debut children’s book, Tiger vs. Nightmare, and read that Tiger is lucky to have a monster (named Monster, of course) living under her bed. But she is lucky—because there is more than one monster in this book, and Monster is the good kind.

Tiger lives in some sort of futuristic world. Her parents have a shop where they fix flying cars. (I LOOOOVE this little sci-fi detail.) She lives in a community of anthropomorphized talking animals (though none is in clothing). She has caring, loving parents, who are aware that a “monster” lives under her bed. They affectionately laugh this off, especially when Tiger asks for food she can deliver to Monster. (“It loves curry! And tacos!”) Tiger tells her parents that Monster visited her when she was a baby, “but Monster said it didn’t seem fair to scare a baby.” So, Monster decided at that time to take up residence in Tiger’s room and scare away Tiger’s nightmares. So, every night, Monster eats the food Tiger delivers; they play exciting games together; Tiger goes to sleep; and Monster gets right to work fending off nightmares—and “with ease.” Nothing but good dreams for Tiger. It’s a sweet deal.

Tetri’s renditions of the monster-and-nightmare-filled bedtime world are captivating. Her palette shifts from the sunny, warm tones of Tiger’s daytime world to the shadowy blue shades of night, and her drawings of these monsters slithering in the dark are made with fluid, beguiling, unfussy lines. It’s also utterly delightful to see Monster, a slight creature, stand up defiantly (often standing on top of the sleeping Tiger) to face the nightmare creatures. It doesn’t take much to fend them off, even though many of them are much larger and intimidating, all on account of Monster’s abundant courage.

However, when Monster tries to shoo away (literally flicking its fingers and saying “shoo”) a new sharp-toothed, antlered, shadowy monster with a skull for a head, this monster doesn’t back down. Monster is flung across the room after fighting valiantly and, eventually, ends up hiding under Tiger’s bed. “I’m sorry,” it whispers to sleeping Tiger. The same thing happens the next night and the next night, though Tiger wakes up to witness it and even helps arm Monster in the ongoing fight.

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After discussing it—Monster sheepishly tells Tiger in a pivotal moment that “it’s coming from your mind … all nightmares do”—Tiger decides it’s her turn to fight. The big battle that follows is gripping and perfectly paced, Tetri alternating between panels to divide the action and full-bleed illustrations. It’s a moment of compelling emotional growth for Tiger when she yells, “YOU’RE NOT REAL!” poking a hole (both figurative and literal) with her claw in the air around the monster. It fills with a pulsating light and—pop!—the monster vanishes. Bravery and daring, as hard as it was for little Tiger to muster them, drive away shadows and dread.

Tiger vs. Nightmare spread

And that’s really the heart of this story. It’s a notion to which young children can relate. Who isn’t scared of monsters under the bed, in the closet, and lurking in the dark? And, sure, Tiger has Monster at her side during the big show-down, but she essentially defeats the creature on her own. It is, after all, a figment of her own imagination: “You’re in my head!” she tells the menacing creature, realizing she can no longer rely on her friend to do the draining work of fending off fear and anxiety.

This empowering story (at a just-right 64 pages—not too short and not too long) comes in a thoughtfully-designed package as well. Remove the dustjacket to see an illustration of the tiny but fierce Tiger on the cover, and on the back is merely the skeleton head of the creature she ultimately defeats. The endpapers feature the shadowy whispers of the dark in Tiger’s room. The title page illustration features the title in large, Tiger-colored font with, under that, Tiger’s irresistible face and small, round Tiger ears. Tiger is such an endearing character that I hope we revisit her in books to follow.

And if this is Tetri’s debut, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.

TIGER VS. NIGHTMARE. Copyright © 2018 by Emily Tetri. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, First Second Books, New York.