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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: a favorite from the 80’s a 2012 banned book

Ghosts that appear in the mirror, heads that fall out of chimneys, soups made of big toes and bones, and a bride locked into a chest to win a game of hide-and-seek. Each story that Alvin Schwartz collected and shared over 20 years ago in his collection of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has given readers laughter, fear, and night upon night of entertainment.

Stephen Gammell's images from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Stephen Gammell's images from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

ALA’s published list of banned and challenged books for 2012 found this old classic tale of ghosts, ghouls, and things that go bump in the night as #8 of the most challenged/banned books due to it being unsuited for their age group and having violence.

All three of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books fall between the 600-760 Lexile mark which would mean that Schwartz’s books are appropriate for students in 6th/7th grade and beyond. I remember reading these books and others like it in elementary school and while I might have been occasionally scared of the dark, I didn’t fear it anymore than my peers.

Growing up I was enthralled with scary stories. Elementary sleepovers and Girl Scout camps were spent with tales of the unknown from under the bed and in the woods. While I was a constant reader of many books, some of my favorites were those stories of R.L. Stine and Alvin Schwartz which later progressed into a love for Stephen King.

At some point in late middle or early high school I wanted to watch The Shining. At that moment my mom decided to make a rule, if I wanted to watch a scary movie I had to first read the book. I don’t remember every watching a Stephen King movie during high school but I did read a whole lot of his books. My imagination seemed to create a better movie than I thought Hollywood ever could.

Schwartz does an amazing job throughout all three of his Scary Stories books to aid in his readers becoming master story tellers themselves. Readers learn the importance of pausing in stories to build suspense and the delivery of the perfect line at the ideal moment.

Story telling is an important part of every culture. I’ve lived half way around the world, without electricity or running water, and ghost stories were still told as a way to pass the time and bring a community together. Schwartz not only tells stories of ghosts but learning lessons from community stories and myths.

What girl, who’s heard the story, isn’t going to think that a scratching on the outside of a car is a hook from an escaped convict? If a trucker starts putting on their high beams while behind a vehicle, does the driver think, just for a moment, that there could be someone hiding in the backseat? And just last week I heard a one colleague joke with another about a spider bite possibly holding thousand of spider babies just to scare her slightly.

The truth is, being a little scared can be fun at times. Why else do we have a culture that thrives on going to horror movies to enjoy the next adrenaline jumping scream?

So should ghost and folk stories be taken as absolute truths? No. But should they be banned from schools or libraries because they might scare someone? Absolutely not. Alvin Schwartz does an amazing job blending scary ghost stories, folk lessons, and funny mistakes all into a collection that engages readers while teaching them the beginning points of being a story teller.

Feel free to pick up this story telling classic at a local BN, Edward McKay, the library, or check out a used book store that's going out of business, Crocodile, for some great deals.

I miss those days I could be scared so easily. Growing up often coincides with being less gullible. Letting your imagination run wild is healthy every now and then.

Happy reading!


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