On Our Bookshelves: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

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BOOK: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

AUTHOR: Alvin Schwartz

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 1981

REVIEW: 

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Looking for something to read in honor of Halloween, I thought of Alvin Schwartz.  I’d been a fan of his collections of folklore when I was a kid, and we still have a copy of A Twister of Twists, a Tangler of Tongues at my house. His most famous work, by far, is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.  This book, and its two sequels, have been terrifying kids for decades.

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Scary Stories is geared for ages eight to twelve, so the language is simple, and the writing style plain.  The book is just as described–short pieces meant to be read aloud, told around a campfire, or pored over at a sleepover party lit by illicit flashlights after mom got fed up and turned the lights out. One of the things I really like about this collection is that it was meticulously researched–it’s full of traditional tales as well as more recent urban legends (scary stories, as the author describes it, that young people often tell about dangers we face in our lives today).  If you’re an adult, you’re likely familiar with many of them from summer camps, or from Shakespeare, Mark Twain, or T.S. Eliot, not to mention a multitude of horror films. (The call is coming from inside the house!)

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Unsurprisingly, some parents and educators complain that the gruesome stories are inappropriate for children.  And yes, it is quite possible that these tales will scare a sensitive soul.  The illustrations alone, masterfully done by Stephen Gammell, are clearly the stuff of nightmares.  But scary stories have a social function beyond mere entertainment–the fantastic stories allow kids (and adults for that matter) to explore fear from a safe distance. A little fear and a bit of an exhilarating thrill help us all build emotional resilience. There’s a reason there are so many of these stories from so many different parts of the world, in so many different folk traditions.

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Examples of Stephen Gammell’s artwork from the “Scary Stories” series (via Google). Note: different editions are illustrated by either Gammell or artist Brett Helquist.

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It was a good trip back in time for this nostalgic adult.  And if you know kids of the right age, pick up a few paperback copies and give them some delicious scares in their trick or treat bags.

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon 

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and two cockatiels.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com

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Book Cover Courtesy of HarperCollins

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