Reader Beware, You’re In for a Scare!

Something I feel we often forget: kids like horror, too. As a 22-year-old who never interacts with small children, I have no idea what the current market is for kiddie horror, but I recall the the ’90s when there was horror around every corner to satisfy my childhood fascination with the macabre.

Yesterday we endured an epic destruction of our basement in the form of sewage flooding (i.e. actual shit everywhere), so we had to haul up all of our sodden clutter to throw away. While doing so, I happened across a mostly-dry cardboard box of old books, including several stacks of my absolute favorite series as a kid: R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. Needless to say, I saved them from a very wet and rank demise.

I used to gobble these books up as a kid, and they actuallly inspired my first “writing,” if you could call it that. I would draw scribbled lines on computer paper, fold the pages together, and then staple them with a hand-drawn cover. Then I would “read” my story to my family and classmates, in actuality making up the story as I went along so that it changed every time I read it anew. Each of these stories I would create would be labeled as a Goosebumps book by yours truly, and they would usually involve skeletons weilding axes or something of the like.

My favorites of the series were the Night of the Living Dummy trilogy, with the creepy Slappy who came alive (and, of course, the parents just never believed those poor terrorized kids!). I actually made my mom read an entire one of these out loud to me on an airplane once. I think this is why I was somewhat fond of the movie Dead Silence when it came out: it reminded me of the good old days of evil dummies in Goosebumps.

I was also a fan of the “create your own story” types, and of these I recovered Please Don’t Feed the Vampire, Trapped in Bat Wing Hall, and Welcome to the Wicked Wax Museum from the clutches of the basement sewage. I would always get mad when I got to an ending I wasn’t satisfied with and retraced my steps until I’d covered all the possible outcomes.

The others that I kept for nostalgia’s sake are as follows: Attack of the Jack-O’-Lanterns, Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes, A Shocker on Shock Street, The Haunted Mask, Return of the Mummy, Ghost in the Mirror, Ghost Beach, The Werewolf of Fever Swamp, The Haunted School, Go Eat Worms!, and The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena. I even had doubles of a few of these, apparently.

Looking back, these books strike me as… utterly ridiculous. Just read the titles. It’s schlocky, campy fun, and when it comes right down to it, these books are just too silly to scare anyone over the age of seven (although my horror-meter’s been broken ever since I watched It when I was about five). I can’t imagine attempting to read one of these now because, flipping through them, I’m assaulted by over-the-top writing, which may be great when you’re writing for kids, but which would make me, as an adult horror writer, cringe. Alas, these books shall have to remain an unsullied memory of my happily horrific childhood. But even if I never read them again, I just can’t part with these. R.L. Stine was my hero when I was a kid, and I am forever indebted to him for introducing me to the joys of horror literature.

Anyone care to share stories of their own childhood experiences with kiddie horror?

Categories: Literature


  1. I was never a Goosebumps fan myself, but my younger brother was OBSESSED with this series. I can remember him carrying around a copy of “Night of the Living Dummy” with him wherever we went. Most of my childhood horrors came from Nickelodeon’s “Are You Afraid of the Dark,” which I eventually wasn’t aloud to watch because I got so many nightmares…

    • Ahhh yes, “Are You Afraid of the Dark” was most definitely my favorite show as a kid! (Is anyone surprised?) Actually, my sister and I found the show on eBay a while back… someone had burned the VHS of all the episodes in all the seasons onto DVDs, so we bought them and now own every episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark.” I should do a post on that, too…

  2. I just have to say that “Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes” would scare the piss outta’ me, campy writing or no, because I think garden gnomes are creepy as all fuck, and they scare me even in their most benign state.

    I was never allowed to read these as a kid because my stupid Christian school banned them, but it really is amazing to go back and look at your first influences. I curl up with my Shel Silverstein hardbacks all the time.

  3. LOVE a good Goosebumps read and “Are You Afraid…” episode. That’s one of the classics that Nick should bring back to that new, old school midnight line-up.

    So Joanna, I wanted to email you all this but could not find your direct contatct, so hopefully this will do.

    I just came across your blog (which is awesomely twisted, by the way), and thought this might be up your alley: My partners and I just launched a kickstarter campaign to raise funds for our short film KILLER GRANNY. It’s based on our feature script of the same name that was honored at Slamdance, NYC Horror Film Fest, Washington D.C. Horror Film Fest, and Shriekfest. I thought I’d get in touch with you to see if you might have an interest in posting something about it, because it could be a really kick-ass flick if we can get it made. We also have some awesome incentives for everyone who donates (poster, film download, producer credit, etc.).

    Here’s the link to the campaign if you want to check it out -

    If it’s something you’re into, you could definitely count on us plugging Pandora’s Pen to our backers.

    Thanks a lot, and if it’s not your thing, no worries!


    Taylor Jackson

    • I have to say, this film looks like pure awesomeness. I will see what I can do to help back you, and when I get back from traveling this coming week, I’ll be sure to make a post asking my readers to check it out as well!

  4. I don’t mean to necropost but I found your article very compelling. I love Goosebumps and to a lesser extent, Are You Afraid Of The Dark. I’ve read a few Goosebumps books that my parents had bought more than 10 years ago, but recently I’ve been watching its episodes.

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