You’re a youth who lives with his parents in a house near the edge of a dark forest. You’re nearest neighbor is miles away, so when there’s a knock on the door in the middle of the night, it’s not likely to be a good thing. But when the door is opened, all that’s there is a pair of giant leather boots . . . and nothing else.
Do you remember:
Inside My Feet by Richard Kennedy, illustrations by Ronald Himler (HarperCollins 1979)
I’m rather thankful to Jim Trelease and his Read-Aloud Handbook. My mother had a copy of this book when we were growing up in the 1980s and she used it in making many of her read-aloud picks for us. I’m pretty sure this was one of the titles included on the list–for I’m not sure what other reason my mother would have found to read us this slim but spooky read. Because the handbook has been updated over time with more recent titles, I’m not sure the latest editions of this read-aloud guide would have this title, but I’m very glad my mother’s copy did.
Our protagonist is also our narrator, and tells his tale to the readers. I don’t believe we ever catch the young man’s name, but he’s a lad with a good bit of sense and wisdom, even when the worst and most bizarre things happen to him. One night, there’s a strange knock on the farmhouse door in the middle of the night, when his parents go to investigate, they find a pair of boots on the doorstep. There’s no one about, just these gigantic boots. But they bring the boots inside. Later, they hear the boots clomping downstairs. Father goes to investigate, but instead of shooting at whatever intruder is in their house, he is rapidly carried away before either mother or son can see his abductor. Then the boots reappear. And mother is also carried off. Now, it is our young protagonist’s turn, and he knows whatever carried off his parents will be coming for him . . . but he won’t be caught unawares.
This is an undoubtedly odd story–which should come as no surprise to anyone who has read other stories by Richard Kennedy. It takes twists and turns that ignore the expected route, but nevertheless create a satisfying story. I just started reading this tale to my son and it made me realize that this 71-page tale packs a wallop. The first thing you notice is that the author makes no attempts to talk down to his audience in this story. Right on page 2 we have our narrator relating a childhood fear. “Underneath my bed was a large and cold hand that also watched, and waited for me to dangle a naked arm or leg over the side so it could drag me screaming into that dark pit where it would rip and smother me until I was dead, and torment me afterwards. But there was nothing unusual in that. It had been waiting since I was five.” The description caught me be surprise, I’d forgotten how vivid and spooky this tale was. Kennedy doesn’t pull his punches or soften his words. It’s a book where not only do monster plainly exist, but the main character actually reflects that he’s never asked his mother if she’s killed anyone. But the narrative doesn’t feel out of place, instead sense and the supernatural weave together on the edge of civilization giving the book a solid sense of place and time despite the fantastic that creeps into it.
You have to love a good self-sufficient protagonist. When his parents get stolen away, our young protagonist doesn’t go and hide, but takes his father’s 8 gauge shotgun and rigs a set of wires to the door so that he can open it while sitting a distance back, ready to shoot. He doesn’t deny he’s afraid, but he refuses to sit and wait for the inevitable helplessly. And it’s this that really makes him stand out. Our hero could have simply been a story character that things happened to. Instead, he fights for agency despite every scrap of childhood fear he owns. I don’t know that I’d be as brave if my mom and dad got spirited away in the middle of the night. But it sure as heck made an impression on me. I’ve remembered this strange little book across the years until a copy fell into my hands again. Now I’m sharing it with my son.
Richard Kennedy is also the author of another odd fantasy for kids called Amy’s Eyes (which is exceptionally long for a middle grade novel). And he’s written a picture book fairy tale story I’ve encountered called The Dark Princess which is about as dark as fairy tales get in some ways. Writing this reminds me that I’ve really got to get ahold of Amy’s Eyes and give it a read sometime!
If you can find this, I highly recommend it for a spooky story to be shared over several nights.