Alvin Schwartz’s series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark made its original appearance in 1981. If you grew up around this time, you may have remembered seeing the titles in Scholastic Weekly Readers or elementary school book stores. The first thing that probably grabbed your attention was the eye catching illustrations by Stephen Gammell (which they changed to more tame versions back in 2011 but have subsequently changed back). Drawings of humans with something sort of off about them, monsters with gaping mouths that seemed to be in motion, or scenery that was blurry and dreamlike. There was also controversy surrounding the series. Parent Teacher Associations around the country wanted the book banned because of the morbid depictions of death found in the children’s series.
Maybe you heard how scary the stories were, maybe you were lured in by the haunting drawings, or maybe you just knew that parents didn’t want you to read them. In any case, the series was so popular that now, decades later it is coming to life in movie form. Here’s a list of summer reading for both the spooky story loving kid in you and the spooky story loving adult you grew up to be.
In a Dark, Dark, Room and Other Scary Stories (1984) By Alvin Schwartz
This is for younger readers who are just starting out in the early reading levels. Illustrated by Dirk Zimmer, this book, like Scary Stories, is a collection of urban legends, poems, and eerie drawings. “The Green Ribbon” has a particularly creepy drawing. If you have seen the 1997 film Campfire Tales, you know the twist of this tale.
The Wish Giver: Three Tales of Coven Tree (1983) by Bill Brittain
If you love Gammell’s illustrations, you will love Andrew Glass’s dreamy illustrations in this book of eerie and humorous tales. This 1984 Newberry Award winner is about a mysterious stranger who sells wishes to the young kids of Coven Tree. The kids learns lessons about being careful about what they wish for, but ultimately learn to think for themselves and to be considerate of others. This book is suitable for elementary and middle school aged children.
The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson
This is for adult readers and maybe some young adults. This gothic novel of hauntings deals with psychological issues, anxiety, loneliness, and suicide. However, it is the perfect story for this list. A group of strangers meet up in Hill House and enjoy each other’s company while waiting for paranormal phenomena. During this time, they continuously make up stories for each other’s amusement while absorbing the very disturbing history of Hill House.
“The Husband Stitch” (2014) by Carmen Maria Machado
Sexually explicit and dealing with a number of complex issues, this short story is for mature readers. From the novel Her Body and Other Parties, “The Husband Stitch” alludes to almost every urban legend in the Scary Stories series and includes directions as to how to perform the story. The protagonist wears a green ribbon around her neck and spends her life protecting it from the men who try and take it from her. Feminist and powerful, this book uses scary stories to illustrate themes of identity, gaslighting, sexuality, and consent.
The October Country (1955) by Ray Bradbury
If you have checked off these books on your list or have plenty more suggestions to add to it, then this book is for you. Bradbury dedicated it to all the autumn people and chances are you are most likely an autumn person. The October Country, with illustrations by Joseph Mugnaini, features stories about grief, the fantastic, and the macabre. FIlled with short stories of outcasts, haunted people, people afraid of themselves, and lost childhoods, The October Country is the ultimate scary story book to add to your collection. Ray Bradbury is beloved by all ages.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark hits theaters August 9th.