Book Review: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark Series

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is another of ALA’s most frequently challenged books. This one is harder to argue with, in my opinion. Should it be censored? Of course not, but then, nothing should. There is no arguing that these books aren’t scary, particularly the ghoulish artwork by Stephen Gammel. I’m sure that most of the people screaming to ban these books have had their kids wanting to sleep with them for weeks after reading them.

When I was about 12, I begged my parents to let me watch The Thing, Kurt Russell version. “I’m big. I won’t get scared.” They finally relented, and oh how I made them regret it. I couldn’t even close my eyes without seeing that blood jump out of the dish during the “testing” scene. I saw some things that night that I still remember today.


Are kids too sensitive? Are adults too desensitized? Who knows. I do know that as a child I loved ghost stories, haunted houses, et cetera. But there is a difference between grabbing a copy of Goosebumps–which are about as scary as a Scooby Doo episode–and Scary Stories. Be honest: you are six years old and you open the book. Here’s the first thing you see:


Don't tell me this isn't scary

Don't tell me this isn't scary

These books–there are several–are full of pictures like this. The stories are good fun, mostly of the “And his hand was a hook!” flashlight-under-the-chin variety. I’m married to a woman with advanced degrees in folklore. She’s basically an expert in urban legends and spooky tales. I’ve no doubt that she would recognize 99% of the stories in these books, in some form at least.

But she might not recognize the art. For the record, the art is absolutely incredible. And yet I can hardly stand to look at it for the creeps I get, and I’m now halfway through my 31st year. The fun of a scary story is that you can tell a horrific story full of sadistic, scary crap, but not feel like it’s real. Telling the story about the guy with the hook hand who’s hiding in your back seat does not demand that you actually think What would it feel like if this were really happening?

And that’s my theory on why Scary Stories is always on somebody’s hit list: it makes these fun, scary folktales seem plausible. There’s no looking at this and laughing your way to the next page:

From the laugh riot, "Sam's New Pet"

From the laugh riot, "Sam's New Pet"

The Verdict: If somebody tell me that The Handmaid’s Tale
is going to corrupt our children because it’s irreligious, I get bored quickly. If somebody says The Chocolate War can’t be on our library shelves because it’s full of cruel teenagers and sexuality, I think: “Get a hold of yourself and go splash some water on your face.”

If someone says “Scary Stories is full of disgusting and scary pictures and stories,” I’m going to agree. But then I’ll say, “Isn’t it great! If there’s a heaven for deviant author/illustrator combos, I hope that I’m allowed to go visit Schwartz and Gemmel” on a field trip.”

Be aware of what you can handle and stay within your limits. Your limits are yours. If you’re looking for a scary story to tell in the dark, you can’t go wrong with these books.


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