By Alysia Maxwell, WCPLtn Library
It’s Halloween and that means it’s time for the creepy crawlies and the monsters to come out. Kids are planning their costumes and their routes to the houses that give out the best candy. Houses are decked out in spider webs and eerie lights, and people are reveling in the supernatural and the macabre.
As parents, this time of year can be hard. We often want to protect children from the scariest things out there, but how much do we protect them and how much do we let them experience some of the fun of the season? After all, what is it that we love so much about scary stories? Why do we seek out the things that send prickles down our spine? As adults we think that it’s that rush of adrenaline that comes from our senses being on high alert; but it’s more than that. It’s also the relief that floods your body when you realize there’s not really someone hiding the closet. It’s the calm that washes away the fear when you know you are not in danger; everything is fine. You are safe.
That’s what it really comes down to, not the fear, but the feeling of safety. No one actually wants to be scared all the time. We seek it out when feeling safe becomes too commonplace, too work-a-day, too boring. We chase that rush of fear so that we can appreciate that feeling of tranquility again.
Kids are searching for that too, although they may not realize it. The whole world is big and scary to them and they need to feel that reassurance as much as adults do, possibly even more so. Of course, every kid is different and what barely startles one might be too much for another. I’m not telling you to traumatize your children, but don’t shy away from letting them read something that might be a little scary. Let them experience those shivers so they can feel safe again. What could possibly be safer than being snuggled up warm with mom and dad reading a book together? Here are some great stories to read with your kids that will give you both the shivers.
Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman; Lucy hears noises coming from inside the walls. She is sure that there are wolves in the walls, but her family doesn’t believe it. They tell her, “If the wolves come out of the walls, it’s all over”. This picture book is great for a younger crowd because it is punctuated with humorous moments that break up the tension. When the wolves finally do come out of the walls they end up doing silly things like wearing Lucy’s socks and eating toast and jam. This story says to kids that the thing they are afraid of may turn out to be not as bad as they think, and maybe even something they can handle just fine.
Another Gaiman gem for slightly older kids is Coraline. Yes, it is a movie and a graphic novel, both of which are fantastic – but for me, nothing beats the original novel. Something about the way the light glints off the button eyes of the Other Mother is so sinister and frightening. Here is a story that is precisely that search for excitement and return to safety. Coraline is bored with her uneventful life, but her search for adventure ends up more than she bargained for. When she goes exploring the house and finds a mysteriously (sometimes) bricked up doorway it leads her to a very unnerving and terrifying version of her own life. It hits kids close to home with a seemingly idyllic family trying to steal her away from her real family. And no adult comes to her rescue. Coraline is the heroine of her own story and must rescue herself as well as her parents. What better way to empower a child than to show them they can face their own fear and conquer it.
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste is a wonderfully spooky story based on Caribbean folklore. There are menacing creatures in the woods with glowing eyes and dark intentions. Corinne believes they are just stories made up to get children to behave, but maybe they are not made up after all. There is a witch whose beauty and attractiveness give her an ominous quality, especially when she tries to insert herself into Corinne’s family. Once again the children are the ones who have to confront that which they fear and defeat it. Baptiste gives us fresh monsters to fuel the imagination.
Scarlett Hart Monster Hunter by Marcus Sedgwick reads more like an adventure story than a terror filled one, however this graphic novel does feature zombies, gargoyles and all sorts of otherworldly foes as well as a very earthly one as well. Scarlett’s got grit and gadgets and her own faithful retainer (sort of like Batman’s Alfred) to help her bring down the baddies.
Guys Read: Terrifying Tales collected by Jon Scieszka is a great compilation of middle grade short stories by various authors including, among others, the master of kids’ horror himself R.L. Stein of Goosebumps fame. These are fun for reading quick stories each night (under the covers of course!)
The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Parents may have read his beautiful Shadow of the Wind, but this oft overlooked YA title is particularly disturbing. Max and his sister Alicia move to a small town and soon discover their new house holds a dark secret from the past. They must uncover the mystery of a spectral creature who is trying to collect an old debt. If the weeping angels in Doctor Who send a chill up your spine this one is right up your alley.
The fun of Halloween is allowing ourselves to feel that delicious prickle of fear followed by the reassurance that we are not about to be eaten after all! So grab a book and a flashlight, pull the blankets over your heads, and have fun reading these scary stories!