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Home | LS5603 Children's and YA Literature | LS6643 Nonfiction for Children and YA
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Scary Stories to tell in the dark Schwarz, Alvin.  1981.  Scary stories to tell in the dark.  ill. by Stephen Gammell.  New York:  J. B. Lippincott.  ISBN:  0397319266.

This collection of American folklore has a little bit of something for everyone.  After a table of contents, a brief preface written by the author gives readers a taste of what is to come by giving examples of how folktales were used in both historical and modern times, and he also gives advice on how best to tell the stories orally to achieve the maximum desired effect - fright!  The slim volume is divided into chapters according to the types of stories contained, such as stories to make people jump, ghost stories, and tales that have originated in modern times.  While chapter titles such as " He heard footsteps coming up the cellar stairs" do not give much insight about the contents of the chapter, a short sentence or two from the author at the beginning of each chapter explains the unifying theme of its contents.  Other than the fact that all of the stories are collected from American folklore, few details are given to explain the ethnicity of the characters.

The short, concise stories do not go into any unnecessary details in terms of plot, character development, or setting.  The short sentences and rapidity with which the stories move toward their spooky climax add to the eeriness that is the goal of these tales.  Gammell's graphic black and white illustrations add a haunting reality to each story.  Poems with themes such as death and decomposition and songs (including musical scores) round out this collection.

In "The Haunted House" (p.29), a preacher is sent to a haunted house to try to rid it of its ghostly inhabitant.  Although it is a written story, readers will want to hide in a closet as they read "step! - step! - step!" as the ghost ascends the stairs to tell the preacher the sad tale of how her lover had killed her for her money.  Gammell's ghastly illustration complements the story by giving the reader a visual example of the dead woman's plight.  As the preacher follows the ghost's instructions for finding her killer and recovering her money, an underlying theme of good triumphing over evil emerges.

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Holly S.
Graduate Student at Texas Woman's University