Welcome to our third post from the Museum Studies class as they explore Banned Books Week and censorship. If you want to review their assignment or learn more about Banned Books week, please see Prof. Julie Holcomb’s recent post: Banned Books Week Introduction
by Benjamin Tyler
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was my introduction to the genre of horror and captivated me in a way no other book had done before. Picture books are typically filled with bright cheerful images, but this book was marked with grotesque displays that ranged from bloody fingers to nightmarish skeletal stalkers. These black and white drawings are like ink stains splashed upon the page with humanoid figures hiding in the dark corners. While it is true that these images are frightening, they also introduce children to a world beyond this one. Death is an integral part of human existence and can be hard to grasp as a child. Most of these stories are twisted portrayals of classic legends and folklore that focus on some aspect of death. None of these stories are overly graphic and are often short tellings. They can even be funny at times such as a mother making big toe soup for her son.
This was one of the most challenged books in the 90s and much of the pushback coming from concerned parents. They felt the material to be too mature for their kids and believed it would leave them traumatized. The figures shown in the book are certainly disturbing but are just cartoonish enough to not be mistaken as real-world beings. It’s understandable for strict parents to not want small children reading these types of books, so some schools implemented age limits on the book, only allowing 3rd through 5th graders to read it. Despite this restriction, it was still offered at many scholastic book fairs in the 90s and got into the hands of young children. Kids are always going to be drawn to things that are seen as off limits and banning books just adds to this desire.
I found this book to be a unique experience because I could share it with my friends through retelling scary stories or with the shock factor of the pictures. I haven’t had that type of relationship with a book since. Another appealing aspect of this book was knowing that it sat on the fringe of being appropriate according to my parents. I had always lived within a bubble of innocence and had no real perspective of the world around me, just the one that had been taught. This storybook showed me that it is okay to be uncomfortable and that fear can be an enjoyable experience.
Scary Stories. Directed by Cody Meirick, performance by Alvin Schwartz, Giant Thumb Studios, May 7, 2019. Imdb.com
Maycock, A. (2012, September 11). Timeline entry for 1990: Scary stories to tell in the dark. Intellectual Freedom Blog. Retrieved September 23, 2021, from https://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=4060.
z. (2013, February 2). Scary stories to tell in the dark complete audiobook series. Rowsdowr. Retrieved September 23, 2021, from https://www.rowsdowr.com/2013/02/02/scary-stories-to-tell-in-the-dark-complete-audiobook-series/.