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Friday, October 17, 2014

Scare of the Week: SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

There's nothing I like better than a chill October day full of swirling leaves, ominous skies, and scares aplenty. I don't know why humans love to be frightened, but I count myself among those who do. It was the same when I was a kid. In that spirit, I'm going to bring you some of my favorite scares every Friday. Today's is the classic Alvin Schwartz collection, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.



















Title: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Author: Alvin Schwartz
Pub info: HarperCollins, 2011 (orig Scholastic 1981); 128 pages
Genre / Audience: horror anthology / ages 10+ 
Caveat to Younger Readers: Well, it's horror--there are dead people doing things dead people oughtn't. But it's nothing terribly graphic. However, read on for more info ...

Goodreads summary:
Some boys and girls were at a party one night. There was a graveyard down the street, and they were talking about how scary it was.
"Don't ever stand on a grave after dark," one of the boys said. "The person inside will grab you."
"A grave doesn't scare me," said one of the girls. "I'll do it right now. . . ."
Welcome to the macabre world of Scary Stories, where folklorist Alvin Schwartz offers up the most alarming collection of horror, dark revenge, and supernatural events of all time. Here is a selection of extraordinarily chilling tales along with spine-tingling illustrations by renowned artist Stephen Gammell.
My impressions:
These stories scared me silly when I was a kid. I must have read this collection over many times, because it's stuck with me. Recently I checked it out of the library to see if the scares still held.

Well, yes and no. The stories are genuinely creepy--though a large section of the book is dedicated to silly/funny "scary" tales--but the writing is not terrifying. The stories are told in a straightforward, unadorned style, and are quite short. Schwartz took his inspiration from urban legends and folktales from different countries. (As an adult, I was most interested in the bibliography he supplies in the back.)

But here's the kicker: The illustrations, depending on which edition you get, can be truly frightening. The original edition featured black-and-white drawings by Caldecott Medal winner Stephen Gammell, and I realize now that it was the drawings coupled with the stories that kept me up nights as a kid. Indeed, it's been theorized that the drawings are what's landed this book on the radar of banned-book enthusiasts, along with its two sequels. When HarperCollins released a 30th anniversary edition, however, Gammell's controversial artwork was gone, replaced by illustrations by Brett Helquist (A Series of Unfortunate Events). While Helquist is a talented artist, his depictions don't have the haunting, unearthly, and frankly terrifying quality of the Gammell illustrations. The Horn Book praised the new edition, calling it "handsome and accessible; now young readers have a choice of how scared they want to be—just a little, or a whole lot." Take your pick according to your comfort level, but when I was a kid, I wanted to be scared a whole lot--always. Click here to read an interesting comparison (with illustrations) between these two editions.

About Alvin (from Amazon):
Alvin Schwartz is known for a body of work of more than two dozen books of folklore for young readers that explore everything from wordplay and humor to tales and legends of all kinds. His collections of scary stories--Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Scary Stories 3, and two I Can Read Books, In a Dark, Dark Room and Ghosts!--are just part of his matchless folklore collection. Schwartz died in 1992.

About Stephen:
Stephen Gammell, who won the 1989 Caldecott Medal for Song and Dance Man (written by Karen Ackerman), also won the Caldecott Honor Medal for The Relatives Came (written by Cynthia Rylant). He lives with his wife in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Online:
Read more about Alvin Schwartz in this New York Times obituary. Click here for yet another take on Gammell's eerie artwork for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Need more scares? Every Friday in October I'll serve up a new one. Search for the tag Scare of the Week to see them all.

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