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Scary (and not-so-scary) books for elementary students, from your friendly librarian

May 13th, 2013 · 2 Comments · Book Geek, Libraries, Library Politics

Boooooooooy howdy, do I wish the Goosebumps series had never been created. In my first library (at a school with students grades 6-12), I had a few Goosebumps books, and a number of Goosebumps videotapes. What? Moving along to library #2 (K-8th grade students). The students fought over the Goosebumps books and things turned a little horror show-ish. (“Mine!” “No, mine!” riiiiip went the pages.) It was sort of a Goosebumps story come to life.

The books were falling apart, even without the fighting, and the students were forgetting to bring them back, so… problem solved. I weeded out the few that were remaining, put them in the discard box and off they went.

Then for two years I heard students complain, “Why’d you get rid of all the Goosebumps?” My answer: “Go to the Multnomah County Library and check them out there. Or save your allowance money and buy one.” I had no library budget for the lower grades, and the budget I had for the middle school students did not, sadly, include Goosebumps money. (My choice.)

Don’t get me wrong — I love a good scary book (Stephen King, Lois Duncan, the Twilight books… which are mainly scary because they’re not written all that well, not because of the content). It’s just… Goosebumps aren’t well-written. I know, I know, it’s just like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series: “They get the kids reading!” So how can that be bad? Well, I would like to argue that it becomes a bad thing when Goosebumps and DOAWK are all that they read. The comparison I make with the kids is this: Books are like food. It’s OK to have snacks once in awhile, or a little junk food, but when that’s your sole diet? That’s a problem.

My current library has a good-sized Goosebumps collection — battered, fading, pages falling out. The kids adore them, especially the kinders, 1st and 2nd graders.

Even when they can’t read them at all, because they’re struggling readers.

Even when they take them back to class, and their teachers are unhappy. (“What’s wrong with Magic Treehouse? How about Henry and Mudge? Why not try Frog and Toad? Dr. Seuss? Anything?”)

Even when they take them home and their parents are unhappy, because Goosebumps give some kids nightmares. (“No, they don’t.” “Well, sometimes they do.” “No, they don’t.” me: sighing) The covers alone, even if you’re pre-literate, are enough to bring on bad dreams. Then the parents send messages, via the kids, the teachers, e-mails: “Please don’t let my child check out Goosebumps.”

And then… we have forbidden fruit. (I’m with the parents and teachers on this one, 100 percent.)

“Please, go to the public library and check out Goosebumps, if it’s OK with your parents.” — me to my kinder and 1st grade students, daily (the 2nd grade students are allowed 2 books apiece, so they usually choose a Goosebumps book and one other)

Here’s a list I came up with, along with some library friends, of little kid scary books (some of which aren’t too scary), that I suggest in lieu of Goosebumps:

Leveled Readers 2 & 3
* Scooby Doo (Haunted Castle, The Haunted Road Trip, Shiny Spooky Nights, etc.)

* “Ghosts! Ghostly Tales from Folklore” and “In a Dark, Dark Room” (Alvin Schwartz)

* “Stick Man’s Really Bad Day” (Steve Mockus)

* “The Dragonology Handbook” (Dugald A. Steer)

* “Where the Wild Things Are” (Maurice Sendak)

* “Sleeping Ugly” (Jane Yolen)

* “Bony” (Frances Zweifel)

* Captain Underpants (Dav Pilkey) (I can’t believe I’m including this series, sorry Mr. Pilkey)

* “Ancient Astronauts: Unsolved Mysteries” (Sue Hamilton)

* “It’s Halloween, You ‘Fraidy Mouse” (Geronimo Stilton)

* “Grandpa’s Ghost Stories” (James Flora)

* “Tales Once Told” (Felix Pitre & others)

* Any books about the Titanic, high or low level

* “The Teachers from the Black Lagoon” and other titles (Mike Thaler)

“You know what I did this weekend?” one of my 1st graders asked me today. “No, what?”

“Went to the Beaverton Library and checked out Goosebumps.” (Big smile on his face.)

My response: “My secret evil plan worked!” (High five and off he went to class.)

The End. Sigh.

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jamie // May 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    You had kids fighting over books at the K-8?. Please tell me you see the success in just that fact alone. I get the whole ‘have them read quality’ angle, but just the fact that they wanted ‘any’ book bad enough to argue over them is frikin amazing. :) You won there, big time. Also the one kid made the trip to the library. Again, score!

    Oh, and thx for the list of other good choices. I personally agree with you and all the other parents that there should ideally be variety in what they read, but for some kids the simple fact they are interested in the story is huge. ‘Pop ya collar, mama’ :)

  • 2 Nancy R. // May 13, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    They weren’t fighting over any books *except* Goosebumps, ay-yi-yi. (Not even Diary of a Wimpy Kid — they were patiently taking turns w/ that series.) So yes, I guess that’s a small success? Yes, the series speaks to some kids, and yes, popularity (and getting them reading) is a good thing…

    But what do you do when it’s something like an obsession and they refuse any and all other books? “I don’t want any of your other boring books” was the exact quote when I told the student, Your mom says no Goosebumps, sorry.

    So he checked out Captain Underpants, and I’m counting that, for now, as a success.