The Drawback of “Well-Designed Pages” (Really?)

Z. and I were sitting in the car, waiting for my older kids to finish their Spanish class. It was cold and dark, and Z., my youngest, was bored. To entertain her, I gave her my phone, which she used to play an audiobook through Epic!, a children’s book subscription service.

I didn’t see the cover of the book she chose, and I didn’t hear the title. I was in the middle of editing my NaNoWriMo project, but I stopped when I heard the narrator of the audiobook say in a creepy voice: “Once upon a time, there was a dark, dark moor.”

I was hooked. I wanted to know what was up with this moor.

“On the moor,” the voice growls. “There was a dark, dark wood.” That wood leads to a “dark, dark house” and eventually to a “dark, dark box,” which contains a surprise.

I’ll admit that I jumped at the end of this simple story, surprised by the contents of the box. First, I have a phobia about what was in it (see here for the spoiler!), and second, I didn’t see it coming. The main character appears only as an illustration — there are no references in the text — and had I known its identity, I would’ve been better prepared for what it finds.

The ending surprised my daughter too, making her laugh. As soon as she could, she played the audiobook for her sisters, who found it amusing too. It’s an engaging three-and-a-half-minute audiobook, which I later learned is A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown. This children’s book is as old as I am, but I’d never heard of it before.

Now that I’ve gotten a sneak peek of the book through Amazon’s “look inside” feature, I wish Z. and I had been looking at the illustrations while listening to the audiobook. These illustrations, according to a 1982 review by Ruth Stein in Language Arts, are “sumptuous,” and the pages are “well-designed.”

Sounds great, right? Alas, no, at least according to the reviewer, who lamented the “well designed pages,” saying they “detract from a tale better told than read.” That reviewer probably would’ve liked the audiobook better than the traditional book, while I would’ve preferred the paper (or, better yet, both!).


  1. Awwww I don’t have a phobia about those little guys, but who knows, if I saw one in person I might change my mind, ha!!

    1. I’m absolutely terrified of them! My phobia got much worse a few years ago when a particularly brazen specimen ran around my house in the middle of day for HOURS. Ugh. We have two cats now.

    1. My kids love Epic!, especially my 7-year-old. My older two turned 11 two days ago, and their reading level is above most of the books on the program. They still enjoy using it from time to time, though.

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