Thoughtful Thursday: Horror for kids

With few exceptions (e.g., Invasion of the Body Snatchers), I do not enjoy horror novels or films. When I was a freshman in college in the late ’80s, my friends decided to go see Witchboard, a horror movie that was playing at a local theater. I tried to bow out, saying I really couldn’t handle it, but they insisted I just needed more exposure. I reluctantly let them (pretty much literally) drag me along, but it wasn’t long before I was out of my seat and cowering in the lobby for an hour while they finished the movie. As far as I can recall, that was the last horror movie I ever (partially) watched.Stay Out of the Basement by R.L. Stine

My daughter Tali, who is now the same age I was when I saw Witchboard, recently had a similar experience. (It would not be at all surprising if, like many of our preferences and tastes, an aversion to horror is hereditary — it likely has something to do with the biological “setting” of our autonomic nervous systems, but I will resist the compulsion to give you a lecture about this.) Tali loves Halloween and, in the mood to celebrate early, she bought a Stephen King novel a couple of months ago. I told her she wouldn’t like it, but she was determined to prove me wrong. By the next day she had abandoned that book and asked if we could read some children’s horror together. That’s how we started listening to the audiobook editions of the LEWIS BARNAVELT and GOOSEBUMPS novels for middle graders. These were about the perfect level of scariness for us.

Are there others out there who feel the same way that Tali and I do about horror novels and films?
Do any of you read children’s horror by yourself or with your kids? If so, which are your favorite books and/or series? We need some suggestions for next year.

One random commenter will win a book from our stacks.

Happy Halloween!

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. SandyG /

    My brother and I grew up watching the old Universal horror movies on TV so I’ve always liked horror. But I’ve never really read children’s horror. There just wasn’t any when I was growing up. I think the first sort of horror novels I ever read were the old books based on the Dark Shadows TV show.

  2. Noneofyourbusiness /

    I feel that kids should build up a tolerance for adult content early, but I wouldn’t want to expose my kids (if I had them) to gore like “Event Horizon” too soon. Goosebumps is scary enough.

    I like the 1993 Body Snatchers movie, but mostly to look at Billy Wirth.

  3. Paul Connelly /

    There is a pretty wide spectrum of what could be called horror in literature. Not sure if movies and TV offer quite the same breadth. I can recall a few episodes of Thriller and Way Out on television when I was young that I wished I had not watched. And generally I have tried to stay away from gross violence and body horror, whether in fantastic or more realistic books and movies.

    In books you can find lots of horror that is more subtle and atmospheric. M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, and Robert Aickman, for instance. And some of Thomas Ligotti and Caitlin Kiernan. One end of the horror spectrum consists of tales aimed more at giving you feelings of alienation, unease and strangeness. That’s the end I tend to gravitate toward. A perfect example story would be Elizabeth Jane Howard’s “Three Miles Up”. From there you progress through stories that place more and more emphasis on scaring you, and eventually you arrive at the other end, where the object seems to be to make you feel grossed out and dirty. My impression is that movies have been headed toward that end of the spectrum for a few decades now, although maybe not going all the way there for the most part. Yet.

    • Good points, Paul. I didn’t distinguish between these types of horror. I often like the strange / unsettling / atmospheric type.

      Also, there’s a big difference between watching and reading. I rarely watch movies, mostly it’s a time issue because I’m usually reading instead, but I also think I prefer reading because I can control the way I visualize the scenes and I don’t have to “see” the blood and gore if I don’t want to.

  4. John Smith /

    I think I’ve seen most or all of the “Goosebumps” TV episodes. I do like the fact that they’re not *too* scary, and I like the low-budget cheesiness. The simple style adds to the realness of the mummies and swamp creatures and suchlike.

    I’ve listened to audiobook versions of the stories by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill (sometimes with Stephen King), and I think maybe they have some of the same feeling as some of the series for kids, even though they’re scary books for adults. Their story “In the Tall Grass” was pretty scary!

  5. The Distinguished Professor /

    The only Doctor Who episodes that have actually resulted in nightmares in my household are “Blink” and “Listen”, because the Weeping Angels and whatever was going on in “Listen” are creepy.

  6. Lady Morar /

    My son was afraid of the Big Bad Wolf and the Jabberwock from the 1985 “Alice in Wonderland”.

  7. Sethia /

    My kids love Are you Afraid of the Dark!

  8. Sandy,if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

  9. SandyG /

    Thank you. I sent you an email

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