Matthue Roths newest book is My First Kaf­ka: Rodents, Run­aways, and Giant Bugs. He lives in Brook­lyn with his fam­i­ly and keeps a secret diary at www​.matthue​.com. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

My par­ents are get­ting ready to move, to aban­don the house I’ve lived in since I was born, and we trav­eled down to Philadel­phia to help them. (No, that’s a lie: We trav­eled down because I had a read­ing for my new pic­ture book, My First Kaf­ka, and school is out, and we were get­ting ready to dump the kids with them for a week.) Every­thing is in box­es. If there’s one thing my kids are good at (there’s a mil­lion things), it’s caus­ing chaos. They prompt­ly set to work unpack­ing the remains of my par­ents’ life.

My five-year-old daugh­ter prompt­ly uncov­ered Trea­sure Island. Yes, the book. It was an illus­trat­ed — though uncut — edi­tion. Read it,” she demanded. 

Hey, what kind of father would I be to deny clas­sic lit­er­a­ture to my next of kin? I read.

We reached the first death — a gristly scene where Bil­ly Bones, an old sea­man, gorges him­self on rum, stabs an old fel­low pirate, then col­laps­es dead on the floor. Are you sure you want me to keep going?” I asked her.

Read,” she urged me.

Sim­i­lar­ly, the sec­ond death (Old Pew, tram­pled by horse-hoofs cut­ting into his ribs) and the third (the night of Long John Sil­ver’s vio­lent mutiny aboard the His­panola—no, actu­al­ly, there was no death here, but a whole lot of sword­fight­ing). We took a breath, not because she demand­ed it, but because my lungs were get­ting tired. Are you real­ly sure you want to read this?” I asked her. Do you know what’s going on?”

She looked up at me with earnest, plead­ing eyes.

The pirates are get­ting ready to kick off the good peo­ple from the ship,” she said. Now they want to decide if they should kill them or hurt them or leave them on the island all alone.”

Kids: one point. Me: zero points. Robert Louis Steven­son: hav­ing a freakin’ ver­i­ta­ble par­ty in his cof­fin some­where, I’m sure.

In the past few weeks, I’ve talked a lot about why kids like dark sto­ries. What I told The New York­er was, it’s because they’re still try­ing to under­stand the world, things like death and dis­ease and renew­al. They’re still get­ting used to exis­tence, and they’re explor­ing this exis­ten­tial state as well as its corol­lary, what it would mean to NOT exist. That’s why they become fas­ci­nat­ed with sim­ple, pret­ty things like flow­ers and ani­mals, as well as why they’ll stare in fas­ci­na­tion as a just-stepped-upon ant crin­kles slow­ly in its dying throes.

But I also think that the bound­ary between dark, depress­ing stuff and nor­mal, hap­py stuff does­n’t exist for them, not the way it does for us. We as adults have a remark­able capac­i­ty to com­part­men­tal­ize — work and home life, car­toons vs. real­i­ty. Kids not only don’t need to do that, they don’t want to. They’re more fas­ci­nat­ed with the para­dox­es of the uni­verse than the idea that these things could be para­dox­es. They don’t sit around all day talk­ing about what it could mean that a per­son could be trans­formed into a giant bug and what it rep­re­sents sym­bol­i­cal­ly because, to them, it does­n’t rep­re­sent any­thing sym­bol­i­cal­ly — it’s an actu­al story.

I’ve been avoid­ing read­ing my book to my kids late­ly. It feels too self-indul­gent, too per­for­ma­tive; I’m much more com­fort­able with Mau­rice Sendak or Arnold Lobel. But at my Philadel­phia read­ing last Sun­day, I read one of the sto­ries from the book, Jose­fine the Singer, or, the Mouse-Peo­ple.” The end­ing is real­ly sad, and I almost cried onstage. My kids, sit­ting about halfway back, had these huge toothy smiles. After every­one had gone, I asked what they thought of it, and weren’t they sad? It was sad when you were read­ing it,” said my younger one. But it’s a sto­ry. It’s sup­posed to be sad.”

Check back all week for more from Matthue.

Matthue Roth’s newest book is My First Kaf­ka: Rodents, Run­aways, and Giant Bugs, a pic­ture book, which will be released in June 2013. His young-adult nov­el Losers was just made a spe­cial selec­tion of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion. He lives in Brookyn with his fam­i­ly and keeps a secret diary at www​.matthue​.com.