Charlie is so exhausted, I wanted to crawl under my desk and go to sleep. Night-after-night he is tormented by a witch that comes to him in his sleep. He tries to deal with the witch on his own but when she visits him when he isn't sleeping he gets really frightened. This isn't a nightmare anymore but reality. He decides to include his best friends, Paige, Rocco, and Alfie, on what is happening to him each night. Charlie has two deep-seated fears that are so crippling that he has opened a portal allowing the nightmare creatures a chance to enter the real world. The main villain is trying to change Neverworld, the alternate nightmare world, by causing Charlie to be permanently afraid to keep the portal open and take over the real world. Charlie tries to stop the villain and shows that not only does he care about others, he is willing to risk his life to save them.
The characters are really respectful of Charlie not laughing at his fears. I end up dealing everyday with students who have hurt others feelings because they laugh at them in mean-spirited ways. I appreciated the group not laughing at Alfie's doofiness or Charlie's fears. As Paige says, "Only weak people need to make others small." Mean-spirited teasing is where it begins so often in the classroom. The characters model for readers how to deal with these every day occurrences that happen in school or with siblings. That's not to say the characters don't have flaws. They do and they learn from them. But the subtle message of not laughing at others to be mean, is not didactic, and is a good discussion point.
The nightmares that exist in Neverworld are a nod toward Peter Pan's Neverland a metaphor for a never-ending childhood. Neverworld is a metaphor for never-ending fears. The characters must learn to face their fears and deal with them otherwise they will turn bitter and lonely. Fear makes it impossible to live a full life and its a universal theme for adults as well as children. It takes courage to root out what is frightening and face it. While this is the main theme there are others that add depth to the story. Additional points for discussion include grief, friendship, courage, and bullies to name a few.
This book reminds me of "Nightmare Acadamy: Charlie's monsters" by Dean Lorey (UK title) or "Monster Hunters" (US title). That story has children who have nightmares and the monsters come to life. They have to go to an academy to learn to control them. It is loaded with more action than themes. This book has more to discuss than the other, they are both are fun reads.