For the last month or so, I've been reading The Wizard of Oz (the original Baum novel) to my four-year-old twin girls. Both girls have a history of being skittish about conflict in stories--they watched Cinderella for a while but then got too distressed at the meanness of the step-sisters as they tore the dress. They watched Finding Nemo but after a while couldn't take the dentist scene. And they were very nervous about Beauty and the Beast because of, well, the mean Beast.
They were OK with Dorothy landing on the Witch of the East. Probably because the actual conflict takes place off-stage. Dorothy realizes what happened after. And in the book, the Witch of the West doesn't show up in Munchkinland. They were a little nervous about there being another witch out there, but OK. And they digged the addition of the friends and their very clear goals - Scarecrow wants a brain, Tin Man wants a heart, and Lion wants some courage.
When we started the book, I explained the idea of a chapter book, describing how long it would take to read it. I told them how many chapters and pages there were. Weeks later, we were reading the chapter before they get to the Emerald City. And when I told them that the next chapter, chapter 12, was when they would get there, they were surprised. Because they knew that there a lot more chapters to come. And they thought Dorothy and friends getting to Oz would be the end of the story.
Before that point, they had been cooling off on the book. After all, they knew a witch was coming. But now, they are excited. Because there's been a twist. Because they've been surprised. The wizard didn't give Dorothy and the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the lion what they wanted. To get what they want, the foursome will have to face the witch. And the girls are very excited to see what happens next.
Stories are remarkable things.