Don’t you roll your eyes at me because this trio of books I’m going to talk about seemingly belongs in the area of ‘To Be Read By Children.’ By the age of 13 I was already reading Stephen King and Clive Barker. Not because I was precocious but because my brother left Stephen King’s Pet Sematary on the arm of the couch one day and it had a kitty on it and anything with a kitty on it had to be pretty good. If you know anything about that book (or about any Stephen King book in general) you know I was traumatized for months. But in a good way. Yes, there is good trauma. I think.
So when I first laid eyes on Alvin Schwartz’s first book for kids called Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark I thought ‘Oh, please! That’s supposed to scare me? Bring it.’
Oh, it brought the scares. It brought them in droves. I bought the book because the picture on the cover made me uneasy, a man with his arms flung to the skies, his mouth stretched open in agony. Okay, cool picture. And then I began to read the stories inside. Hooked is not a strong enough word to describe what that first book did to me. I would read a story and then rush to read it to my mom. Schwartz relies on folklore and urban myth in many of the stories and he gives a background description of each story at the end of the book.
But it’s the stories wedded to Stephen Gammell’s illustrations that made the books for me when they first came out. These are horrifying pictures. I came across my copies of the books (one of them so often read that I repaired the spine with black electrician’s tape) about a year ago and I flipped through it, shuddering at the illustrations. Other illustrators were brought in for the newer editions of these books which the library owns, but Gammell’s illustrations are the ones that haunt me.
Part of me wants to warn parents that the books are a little too scary for small children to read. But another part of me thinks what the hell; read them to your little boogers and keep them in line. Tell them all about that thing waiting under the bed counting down the minutes until the lights are turned off.
Book One is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Even the titles of the stories are terrifying: “What Do You Come For,” “The Hearse Song,” “Old Woman All Skin and Bone.” My favorite out of this first book is a very short story called “The Slithery-Dee”: The Slithery-Dee. He lives in the sea. He saw all the others. But he didn’t see me. That quote creeps me out for reasons I still don’t understand.
Book Two, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, amps up the frights even more with story titles like “Wonderful Sausage,” “Cat in a Shopping Bag,” “The Man in the Middle” and my favorite from this book,”The Bed By the Window.”
The third book is Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones (Oh God, I just read a few of the story titles and had major flashbacks. I think I should sleep with the lights on tonight.) Titles in this volume include: “Just Delicious,” “The Dead Hand,” “The Red Spot” (I’m still afraid of this story actually being true and happening to me) and “It’s Him.”
These are just a smattering of titles from each book. You can read them in any order but study the illustrations closely. They, along with the stories themselves, will help your nightmares find you.