The ever-present desire for scary Middle Grade books
I do a lot of school visits–both virtual and in person–over the course of the year. It’s always fun to meet the students, talk books with them, and hear their stories. Every visit is different and unique, but there is one thing that is always the same (other than, you know, me).
It goes something like this:
We love that you write spooky stuff. The students are always asking for more scary stories to read!
That’s great. What sort of Spooky Middle Grade books do you have in your classroom/library?
We have Goosebumps, of course.
Of course. What else?
(stares blankly at me for a few seconds)
We have Goosebumps.
While the Goosebumps series is awesome, there appears to be a dearth of other spooky middle grade books in our nation’s schools and libraries. I’m not sure why this is. Kids have always liked a good, scary story. They tell them to each other at sleepovers, birthday parties, camping trips, midnight Mahjong tournaments, and any other late-night gathering. Why, then, is the genre of Middle Grade Horror defined by Goosebumps, some newer Goosebumps, and some older, classic Goosebumps?
The intense popularity of the Goosebumps books, with kudos to good writing and a great marketing team, have unwittingly exacerbated the problem. Since there are so many of them and they are so popular, it is understandable that people see them as representative of the entire genre. However, they are a very visceral type of horror- in your face, gore and blood and nasty, festering wounds with bugs crawling in and out of empty eye sockets–all of which I adore. However, the books are not for everyone. They’re like an R-rated slasher flick told in a PG-13 or PG way. Even the book covers often have more in common with a poster for the latest R-rated horror movie than they do with anything aimed at children. Again, the genre suffers- some parents may see these covers and walk away from the books and the entire genre.
But Middle Grade Horror can be so much more.
Middle Grade Horror is the shiver up your spine. It is the strange creak in the floorboards. The weird smell coming from under your bed (the one you THINK is just your dirty socks). Vampires with bad personal hygiene. Monsters that only go bump in the dark because they can’t see where they’re going. Misunderstood ghosts. Were-ducks. Maybe a possessed-yet-cuddly stuffed animal or two.
The fact is, Spooky Middle Grade is anything and everything spooky, and kids are desperate for it. Spooky middle grade books allow children to dip their toes into the darkness without fear of repercussion. Life is not all unicorns and rainbows and these books can help build up a child’s ability to handle some of the things that might come their way down the road.
I also think we underestimate children’s ability to handle darker material. One of my school visit presentations deals with defining and exploring the genre of horror. I do this for grades 4-8. I have never had any issues, and in fact, most teachers tell me they’ve rarely seen their students so engaged. We talk about classic horror literature, horror movies, and the four main horror storylines. The kids may not have seen A Nightmare on Elm Street (I certainly hope the 4th graders haven’t seen it), but they all know who Freddie Kruger is. When I explain that Jurassic Park is a haunted house story (trust me, it is), they jump over themselves to share their thoughts on the subject.
One student, at the end of one of my visits, came up to me and the teacher, a look of pure joy on his face.
“I can’t believe we just talked all about Micheal Myers and Jason and Goosebumps and evil clowns and stuff! In school! That was so great!”
Children in the 8-12 age range are ready to be (slightly) scared and can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. More than that, they WANT to read these books.
So if you are a librarian or a teacher or a parent, give your Middle Grade-aged students/children the gift of something spooky to read every now and again.
In addition to Goosebumps.