Legendary author Neil Gaiman (three of whose stories are in our ‘picks’ below), describes the attraction of scary stories thus: ‘We have been telling each other tales of otherness, of life beyond the grave, for a long time; stories that prickle the flesh and make the shadows deeper and, most important, remind us that we live, and that there is something special, something unique and remarkable about the state of being alive.’
Each kid has a different ‘scary’ threshold, and every child will find some scenarios and ideas more frightening than others. You know your child best, and we would never encourage you to give them books that lead to more than a shiver of disquiet.
However, scary stories aren’t usually just about being scared. They generally also have themes of courage, problem-solving and ‘defeating’ monsters. Stories with positive endings like this can empower children.
Gaiman argues that:
‘In order for stories to work — for kids and for adults — they should scare.
And you should triumph. There’s no point in triumphing over evil if the evil isn’t scary.’
And Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association, suggests that when we address fear with kids, we help prepare them for life, making them strong, independent and not inappropriately fearful.
Here’s respected Australian children’s publisher Linsay Knight on the topic:
‘As they grow older, scary stories play an important role in children’s emotional education, allowing them to identify and control their darker feelings – a good coping mechanism. It’s a chance for them to experience a really potent fantasy and almost live it, without any of the consequences. Part of the thrill is realising it’s not true and that nothing bad is really going to happen. And emotionally, a scary story is rather like a carnival ride – hearts beat faster, eyes widen as adrenaline pumps, and then it’s over, leaving an afterglow of well-being. They’ve been tested, and they’ve prevailed and emerged from the ordeal unscathed.
‘If you ask children why they love reading and telling scary stories they might say that they like the fact that their favourite characters are frightened and have no idea what is about to happen next. But they might not mention that they want to be scared themselves. Because being an observer puts them in a position of power and watching a scary creature or situation from a safe vantage point outside the action is appealing, as is the ability to walk away unscathed.’
For kids who do thrive on a good scare, here are twelve of our favourite creepy reads, from Roald Dahls’ fun and ‘just scary enough for everyone’ Witches, to popular series ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Skulduggery Pleasant’ and Gaiman’s Coraline (those button eyes still give us the creeps years after reading!).
(Phantom Isles is currently not available in print form in stores, but we couldn’t resist including it – it’s about books and libraries! And historical injustice! And is a real page-turner, besides. Check your library shelves for a copy, or it can also be downloaded as an ebook.)
Click on the cover images below for more information about each book, or to buy a copy.
What’s your favourite creepy children’s book? Please let us know in comments. And if you like this list, please consider sharing it using the social buttons.
(sources for this story: brainpickings.com for Gaiman quotes, metrokids.com for Farley statment, randomhouse.com.au blog for Knight quote)