Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
While most of us enjoy terrifying tales all year round, Halloween is a time when horror enthusiasts get to share this love with their children. It is a time for chilling stories, fun crafts, and candy. Yet finding child appropriate books to read in the horror genre that remain palatable for the discerning horror aficionado can be a difficult task.
The Scary Book, compiled by Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson, is a horror-themed collection of short stories, poems, activities and jokes for children. The Scary Book isn’t scary, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is easy read for even the most apprehensive of ears, while remaining interesting enough for adults to tolerate.
The Scary Book follows the theme set out by Alvin Schwartz of Scary Stories fame. It relies heavily upon classic folktales and rhymes to entertain the reader. However, where Schwartz is primarily concerned with terrifying his subjects, the tales compiled by Cole and Calmenson serve more to amuse. Overall, good triumphs over evil and no one dies.
Perhaps the most intriguing story within the compilation is “Bony-Legs,” by Joanna Cole. It is a simple tale which follows a young girl and her encounter with Baba Yaga. Through the kindness of others and her own craftiness, the girl outwits the witch. Following the honorable horror story traditions, it serves as a warning for children to listen to their parents and never trust strangers.
Versions of “Strange Bumps” by Arnold Lobel, “Taily-po” by Stephanie Calmenson, “Wait Till Martin Comes” by Maria Leach, “The Rabbi and the Twenty-nine Witches” by Marilyn Hirsh, and “The Viper is Coming” by Stephanie Calmenson likewise appear in the collection. All are distilled down to their roots and told in a family friendly narrative.
The Scary Book also contains poems by some of the most noteworthy poets in children’s literature. This includes the late Shel Silverstein who contributes “Batty” to the collection. The poems are short, with most under 10 lines in length. All are humorous in nature.
Crafts and jokes extend the value of The Scary Book from simply something to be read at bedtime. They include instructions for children on how to create a severed finger in a box, how to draw a werewolf, and how to pass the time when you are passing a graveyard. “How can you tell when Dracula has a cold?” Read The Scary Book and find out.
The Scary Book is ideal for parents with children between the ages of 3 and 8. It can be read to younger children before serving as a first reader when they get older. While not terrifying, it is also not dull and encourages parents to engage with their kids.