Last summer, my mom and I laughed ourselves silly as an old family friend (Andrea) explained to us why her neighbor didn't like her. Get this - her sister hosted a slumber party for her daughter's girl scout troop (which the neighbor's daughter also attended), and Andrea decided it would be a great idea to scare them. So she acted like a zombie and tried to climb in the window when the girls were all sleeping. (...and no, I am not kidding.) The girls were, like, scared out of their minds. Apparently, there was shrieking and screaming and dogs barking and all kinds of mayhem. I laughed for days every time I thought about it because, who does that? What normal adult sees a group of girl scouts and thinks "Hey, I think I'll scare them!"? I'm counting at least two people: Andrea and Alvin Schwartz.
The Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz is subtitled “To Tell in the Dark” but I think a more apt title might be “To Make Your Fellow Campers Wet Their Bunks.” This book is kind of the (big, fat, scary) bomb. It is also the ALA’s No. 1 banned book of the past several years. I was surprised because there isn’t one single gay person in the whole thing. After researching the banning, I think it has more to do with exhausted parents of terrified kids than anything else.
The book itself is scary but somewhat familiar to anyone who sat around a summer campfire telling ghost stories. Schwartz based his Scary Stories series on American folklore and some classic urban legends because let’s face it, Gentle Readers – we don’t have tons of folklore compared to older countries like China. Remember the one about the couple making out on lover’s lane when the radio announces the escape of a one armed madman from the local insane asylum and the couple speeds off and arrives home to find the madman’s bloody hook hanging from their car door!??! It’s in there.
Schwartz also gives tips like “lower your voice so that your listeners have to lean in close to hear you” and “when you get to this point in the story jump out at your listeners and scream “BWWWAAAAAAAAA!!!” Excellent instructions for maximum scare-age, yes? It brings us to our banning. Many of the internet accounts I’ve read say “This book is great but I read three stories to my 4-year old and he wound up sleeping in bed with my wife and me for months afterwards.” Variations include “cried himself to sleep,” “had night terrors,” and “started bed wetting again.” Well, Asshat, maybe you shouldn’t have read ghost stories to your toddler.
Other critics cite cannibalism (in one story a farm boy finds a toe growing in his field and his family cooks it for dinner), murder (severed heads bounce down the chimney), witchcraft, and ghosts (of which there are many) as reasons for banning. Several websites had bigger problems with the illustrations (which I have to admit wigged me out) than the stories themselves.
Here's the bottom line for this one - don't read it aloud to your toddlers but older kids will love it.