There’s always that one hot-ticket book in the elementary school library, the one everyone is ready to knock out another child’s teeth over. When I was a kid, those were the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” series. Judging by the controversy these books have caused and the number of places it’s been banned, it’s probably easier to get drugs in a school library nowadays than “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”. But they weren’t banned in my elementary school, at least not back in the day.
These books were absolutely terrifying. My parents can confirm that I had several recurring nightmares related directly to various stories, but the books also fascinated me. It was the first love/hate relationship of my life. On one hand, the nightmares were such a dependable side effect that they could have put a warning sticker on the book like they put on pill bottles. On the other hand, how great was it to test your bravery? Even better was testing the bravery of other people. You could comb through the books with your friends, trying to decide which of the illustrations was the ugliest and scariest, and feel like a total badass.
Of course, that was a tough call. They were all ugly and horrific, no matter what the story was about. Ghosts, vampires and witches all had an equal shot at being soul-twistingly grotesque. It almost didn’t matter what story you were reading. There could have been one in there about two butterflies who learned the value of friendship, but in no way do I remember, because the pictures were just so scary.
The stories weren’t quite as memorable as the illustrations, but that’s like saying being attacked by a dog isn’t as memorable as being attacked by a wolf. They were still pretty terrifying. In one particular story, a woman was attacked by a vampire as she was lying in bed. In another, a boy’s parents bring him a dog, only to discover it’s a rabid sewer rat (how dumb do you have to be to mistake a rabid rat for a purse dog?). In perhaps the most memorable one, a spider lays eggs on a girl’s face, a story that I can guarantee inspired arachnophobia in 99% of people who read it. I’m going to repeat that. A spider laid eggs in a girl’s face, in a book for children.
Still, scary as they are, I don’t think they deserve to be banned. They taught kids that some things were really scary, but you always had the power to shut the book and turn the light on if it got too intense. If kids don’t learn what’s too much for them in a controlled environment like the library, maybe they won’t learn what’s too much for them later in life. I read those books every time I could legally check them out, and I turned out okay. And it’s not like there are really any monsters in the closet…right?