Banned Books to Read in the Dark

Instant childhood, just add covers and a flashlight.

Instant childhood, just add covers and a flashlight.

Happy Halloween, all! Continuing with this month’s theme is a review of Scary Stories. Enjoy!

THE DEFENDANT: Scary Stories (series), Alvin Schwartz

THE VERDICT: Scary Stories has been banned in many US schools and libraries. It came in at #1 on the ALA’s Most Frequently Challenged Books List in the 90s and #7 in the 00s. When HarperCollins put out a 30th anniversary addition, the original, iconic illustrations were replaced with tamer, more child-friendly ones (see Cracked.com link below), likely due to controversy the illustrations and the book have courted.

THE CHARGES: According to the ALA, the Scary Stories series is banned for occult/satanic content, violence, issues over religious viewpoint, and the disturbing nature of the illustrations.

THE REVIEW: What can be said about Scary Stories? Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones are just that: scary stories, complete with unsettling and memorable illustrations. Some are funny, some are gruesome, some are eerie.

They’re fun around campfires, huddled around the bean bag chair in the classroom, or read with a flashlight under the covers.

Some of the stories are better than others, some are creepy enough to stick with you, some are sub-par and blend together. Yet, like with Goosebumps, these books are the stuff of childhood. They are alternatively fun and creepy and the perfect thing to read around Halloween, whether a kid reads them on their own; with friends; or are read to by a parent, teacher, or babysitter. They lend themselves well to being read aloud with fun voices and dramatic flashlight effects.

Sitting on the one coveted bean bag with this, most coveted of books was basically the elementary school version of sitting on the Iron Throne, your enemies bowed and blood-soaked at your feet.

Sitting on the one coveted bean bag with this, most coveted of books was basically the elementary school version of sitting on the Iron Throne, your enemies bowed and blood-soaked at your feet.

THE DEFENSE: Yes, some of these stories are creepy, but we had them in my first grade class and I got a hold of them via my brother in kindergarten. Save for the one story where spiders erupt out of someone’s face, none of them were scary enough to make me lose sleep. The ones that stick with me did pique a certain interest in supernatural fiction and folklore, but rest assured that this interest did not lead to any goat sacrifices or candle-strewn demon summonings.

Kids are supposed to get scared. It’s what they do, especially around Halloween or on camping/scout trips. Sure, every child has their own threshold for getting freaked out, but that should be the child’s or the parents’ call, not the school board’s. These stories are written for kids. They’re age appropriate and perfectly reasonable to have in a classroom. If getting scared isn’t your thing, don’t read them. And definitely don’t remove the iconic images that made them so memorable and alluring in the first place.

In addition, as Cracked.com points out, confronting fear and terror in a controlled way can actually give kids the lifeskills and coping mechanisms they’ll need as citizens of an often scary world. As Cracked puts it:

“No matter how bad things get (spider bite) they can always get worse (spider eggs). But if we’re willing to open our minds to the horrific possibilities, we can handle them. That’s what these books taught us, with tales of folks who didn’t always lose their cool when they came eye-to-eye-socket with their worst fears. A controlled setting like these pages gives us a sandbox in which to practice these confrontations, and rather than be warped by them, shape them to our needs — even if those needs are to slowly and agonizingly murder the witch who cursed us.

Because I love my nieces, I shall be giving them the gift of pants-wetting terror this Halloween. It’s not just a fun thrill; it’s a chance to look what scares you in the eye, challenge it and grow to realize the only thing we have to fear is fAAAAHH GOD HERE IT COMES AGAIN!!”
– Brendan McGinley, 5 Reasons the Scariest Thing Ever Written is a Kids’ Book

As for ‘religious viewpoint,’ 1) we live in a religiously diverse society, and, 2) these books are pretty secular and nondenominational as far as horror goes. If ghosts are so against your beliefs that you do not want your child exposed to the concept, don’t send your kids to public school.

‘Religious viewpoint’ is a ridiculous ground for banning a book that leaves nearly everything, from The Odyssey to Bridge to Terabithia to Batman, subject to being banned. Parents, whether Christian, Jewish, Pagan, Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, Atheist, or anything else, can all take a chill pill and let their kids read without needing every piece of fiction to be 100% in line with their faith. Few books are and most classrooms contain students of at least more than one denomination within a faith, if not multiple faiths. That means no book would be okay for an entire classroom.

So let’s stop pussyfooting around books and start discussing them like rational, objective adults. If spiders, black cats, and ghouls are against your beliefs, just take it with a grain of salt (no pun intended) or merely abstain without banning others from reading them.

I did once read this to three children, ages 5-9, as a bedtime story while their parents were out. Awesome babysitter or terrible babysitter?

I did once read this to three children, ages 5-9, as a bedtime story while their parents were out. Awesome babysitter or terrible babysitter?

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About boundandgaggedbooks

Shannon is a freelance writer and folklore buff. She has a degree from Hampshire College in Creative Writing/Mythology & Religion, with an emphasis on epic/oral traditions, their anthropological implications, and their modern counterparts. Her work can be found in Fabulously Feminist, Wolf Wariors: The National Wolfwatcher Coalition Anthology, The Concord Monitor, Redhead Magazine, and The Climax.

9 responses to “Banned Books to Read in the Dark”

  1. Alison Lo Fraser says :

    These books were my absolute favorite as a kid and I’m reading them now to my first and second graders. They love them, naturally.

  2. ninjaitis says :

    I really love this post. Books are supposed to help people grow. We can challenge things in literature that we cannot do outright. That’s why books like Animal Farm, 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc. are so good and were so earth-shattering. They were real and open and honest. If we ban books for children, we will be denying them a safe place to challenge problems. Why would anyone want to do that?

    • boundandgaggedbooks says :

      ^THIS. 100% agree. I think that’s what many people who ban books are ultimately afraid of: either that people will think and get ideas or challenge things or that they themselves will have to think about or question things they’d rather not dwell on.

      • ninjaitis says :

        Oh, that is a good point! Some people would rather pretend that problems don’t exist because exposing them means work, and work is hard. It’s why I think people say “I’m colorblind! I don’t see race!” Or whatever bullcrap that is. They would rather pretend nothing bad exists than help fix it. Which is exactly why good books expose things.

      • boundandgaggedbooks says :

        That’s why books addressing things like racism, sexism, genocide, or other types of oppression/human rights abuses are so frequently banned (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill A Mockingbird, Persepolis, and Their Eyes Were Watching God, just to name a few).

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