Feeling scared is fun for many people, including myself. Even as a child, I loved the thrill of a spine-tingling story. Growing up in New Mexico surrounded by Mexican American culture, I was exposed to tales of La Llorona and the Chupacabra, as well as all the usual chilling tales passed from one generation of children to the next. My friends and I played Light As A Feather Stiff As A Board at slumber parties, and one time we all swore with our whole souls that we actually lifted our friend above our heads with each of us only using two fingers. There were nine or ten of us, but still! We KNEW it worked, which completely freaked us out. Especially when our friend’s mom popped her face up to the window from outside wearing a werewolf mask – our screams could probably be heard three streets over. When my best friend and I were about ten years old, I convinced her to watch the old Disney movie starring Bette Davis, The Watcher In The Woods, and to this day she still has not forgiven me. She says I scarred her for life and that I am sick and twisted – and she is absolutely right. I do love love love a scary story!
Movies, books, folk tales, legends – the scary ones are so much fun for kids. The mystery of What If and the thrill of the unknown can spark a child’s imagination like nothing else. I realize that some children cannot handle scary stories – heck, some adults can’t handle them – but there are opportunities to expose kids to scary stories in a safe way that allows them the thrill without guaranteeing they’ll be sleeping in your bed for the next several years. With my own children, I started out with fun Halloween picture books and as they got older, we moved to small chapter books. We watch the silly family Halloween movies every year, and my twelve-year-old recently watched the Netflix hit Stranger Things. They’ve learned to enjoy spine-tingling stories in the safety of their home with me to guide the way, and so far they don’t seem to be permanently damaged!
For myself, I enjoy a horror story that has a slow build and a great plot with deep character development. I’ve never been a fan of slasher movies with lots of icky violence because the plots are so poor in those stories. Formula-writing is definitely not a favorite of mine, which many authors of horror or paranormal fiction seem to use. In other words, I need it to be a great story, not just a scary story.
Whether you’re introducing kids to scary stories or reading them yourself, this time of year is the perfect backdrop for your scary reading life. Here are some suggestions for all ages:
The Elementals by Michael McDowell
Valencourt Books, June 2014 (original publication 1981)
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Riverhead Books, May 2010
Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Puffin Books, August 2003
At The Old Haunted House by Helen Ketteman and Nate Wragg
Two Lions, August 2014
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell
Scholastic Inc., October 1989
Nightbird by Alice Hoffman
Yearling, March 2016
Have fun reading, and leave the light on! You never know what lurks in the dark…