Friday, October 27, 2023

10 Classic Children’s Horror Anthology Books Worth Revisiting for Halloween

Many horror fans can recall reading at least one scary short-story collection during their formative years. Especially if they stayed up reading that book in the middle of the night rather than sleeping. These anthologies and omnibuses were designed to send chills down spines in under a few minutes. Some tales took the longer route, but all the same, this once favorite activity at sleepovers and campouts aimed to make you squirm as soon as possible.

This format isn’t as regularly seen these days in children’s horror literature, but a properly spooky short story never goes out of style. The ten classic collections below, ones chiefly from the ’80s and ’90s, are just a few examples of this former trend. And to help demonstrate why they were — and still are — so appealing, a creepy story from each book is highlighted.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981)

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Alvin Schwartz

It only seems fitting to mention Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark first. This is the series people think of when it comes to these types of books. And a good reason for that is the accompanying drawings by Stephen Gammell. As many fans would agree, the updated artwork from a newer edition doesn’t come close to the same sort of nightmare fuel brought on by the original illustrations.

In addition to two more volumes (More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones), there is the 2019 film adaptation directed by André Øvredal.

It’s nearly impossible to pick just one entry from these books; late author Alvin Schwartz delivered a memorable assortment of unsettling yarns, folktales and urban legends. Yet one that sticks to the ribs, particularly since most of these books’ readers are adults now, is “The Thing.” Two best friends, Sam and Ted, encounter a frightening-looking man in a field one evening. Sam approaches the ghastly “thing” in question — he was described as having “bright, penetrating eyes that sunk deep into [his] head” and he “looked almost like a skeleton” — and pokes him. The walking corpse then follows the panicked boys to Ted’s house before vanishing without a trace. The eeriest part of this tale is the ending: Ted becomes deathly ill a year later, and on the night he finally died, it’s said that Sam’s dead best friend resembled the thing they both saw that one night.

Southern Fried Rat and Other Gruesome Tales (1983)

“I Wanna Hold Your Hand” – Southern Fried Rat and Other Gruesome Tales

Daniel Cohen was a non-fiction writer who had a number of children’s horror books published throughout his long career. It might seem strange to include his work here, seeing as Cohen didn’t come up with original short stories. The stuff in his books was based on “true” hauntings and whatnot. Nevertheless, Cohen’s books are still entertaining as well as informative.

Cohen researched urban legends on top of his paranormal findings. Southern Fried Rat and Other Gruesome Tales is basically a collection of familiar and contemporary American folktales, although there are some surprising variations and “new” myths not so recognized by the public. For example, “The Dinosaur in the Swamp” is an obscure legend when compared to something like “The Hook.” It’s not scary, but it is interesting. Then there’s “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” which appears to be a blend of two different horror urban legends: “The Licked Hand” and “The Boyfriend’s Death.” Here a couple, Chris and Lisa, visits a supposedly haunted old house that’s no longer occupied. They end up having to stay the night because it’s too dark and dangerous outside. To keep Lisa calm, Chris tells her to hold his hand and squeeze as needed. Lisa dozes off, only to then wake up to find herself holding Chris’ hand — however, the rest of him is hanging from a beam in the ceiling. And sitting across from Lisa in a rocking chair is a “huge, wild-looking man, dressed in rags and clutching an enormous, bloody knife.”

Short & Shivery (1987)


“Tailypo” – Short and Shivery: Thirty Chilling Tales

Like Daniel Cohen and others, revered children’s author Robert D. San Souci compiled rather than wrote original stories in his Short & Shivery series. What set Souci apart from his peers, though, was his manner of adaptation. He was applauded for how he recounted these well-known tales.

Anyone who has read Still More Tales for the Midnight Hour may recognize “Tailypo.” To be fair, though, the titular creature comes from old Appalachian folklore. So Souci isn’t simply recycling someone else’s work; he’s sharing a variation of a widely distributed oral folktale much like Schwartz did with “The Big Toe” in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Of course, a lot of people first came across the beastie in its purest form in Short & Shivery. Katherine Coville‘s illustration is also difficult to forget. Souci’s version of “Tailypo,” which is said to be of West Virginian origin, is the one most people know and share. A solitary hunter swipes the tail off a mysterious animal in the woods, then brings it home to cook and eat. Soon enough, the owner of said tail comes to the hunter’s cabin to retrieve what was taken (and has since been consumed). The creature demands its tail back before taking more drastic measures to recover the missing body part. “Tailypo” has some similarities to another American folktale called “The Golden Arm.”

Nightwaves: Scary Tales for After Dark (1990)


Nightwaves Scary Tales for After Dark, Collin A. McDonald

It’s difficult finding significant information about the author of Nightwaves. However, Collin A. McDonald did publish two additional anthologies: The Chilling Hour: Tales of the Real and Unreal and Shadows and Whispers: Tales from the Other Side. And if they’re anything like this one, they’re worth seeking out.

Geraniums” is the inspiration for the weird cover artwork, which was provided by Tim Jacobus. The image looks silly, but surprisingly, this is a serious story about a tense mother-daughter relationship. Janet would love to have a normal life where she can go to the mall with her friends, but her mother would rather Janet stay home all the time and help take care of the garden. With her husband and Janet’s father now out of the picture, the mother clings to all she has left. This includes the geraniums that Janet resents. In due time, the main character experiences what can only be described as floral body horror. Janet only thinks she’s cracking under the weight of her mother’s green thumb, although as it turns out, something sinister is in store for the girl who demands independence. The book’s cover makes it obvious what awaits poor Janet as she tries to run away.

The Scariest Stories You’ve Ever Heard, Part III (1990)

The Scariest Stories You’ve Ever Heard Part III, Tracey E. Dils

Calling an anthology The Scariest Stories You’ve Ever Heard is bold but forgivable. Every book in this horror trilogy is written by a different author, and many fans agree the second and third are the best of the bunch. The Scariest Stories You’ve Ever Heard, Part III‘s Tracey E. Dils didn’t go on to write more in the genre, but after reading, you’ll agree she should have pursued horror.

The majority of Part III is highly enjoyable. The variety of horror is also great. From a supernatural dollhouse to a cursed summer camp, this book has it all. If twists are important, then “The Slasher” is a perfect choice. A student named Sarah stays too late at the library, so she has to take the subway late at night. The only other people in the car are two men sitting next to each other and across from Sarah. One man wears a blue suit, sits still, and stares intently at the student. Meanwhile, the other man is falling over in his seat and is also struggling to stay awake. To make this situation more suspenseful, there is supposedly a killer on the loose who attacks on the subway. Much to her relief, Sarah is joined by an older man who takes a seat next to her. He writes a message on a piece of paper and slides it over: “You must get off at the next stop. Ask no questions. Just follow me.” Sarah obviously suspects him of being the subway slasher, but at this point, she’s terrified of the other two men. Finally, Sarah gets off at the next stop and the older man, a doctor, explains the man in the blue suit was actually dead. And in his back was a knife. The doctor got on the subway car only to warn Sarah after spotting the knife. The drowsy man next to the corpse was evidently the subway slasher.

Night Frights (1993)


Night Frights: Thirteen Scary Stories, J.B. Stamper

Judith Bauer Stamper, better known as J.B. Stamper, has been scaring the kiddos since the ’70s. It was her four Tales for the Midnight Hour books that most people know her for. After concluding that series in the early ’90s, she returned shortly with Night Frights. Two “sequels” were later published.

These Night Frights books are quite short; the first of the three volumes comes to a whopping total of seventy-five pages. It’s a very “get in, get out” kind of read. In the first entry, “The Mysterious Visitor” stood out only because it wasn’t just about a child running into a malevolent weirdo out in the wild. Here a babysitter named Amy hears what she thinks are her clients coming home on a snowy evening, but upon checking the front door and the rest of the house, she finds no one else is there other than the sleeping baby. That’s when she hears footsteps slowly ascending the stairs. And again, not another person in sight. Eventually, the disembodied footsteps edge toward Amy downstairs before going out the way they came. That’s when Amy looks outside the front door and sees footprints in the snow on the sidewalk, leading away from the house. Brrr!

Even More Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs (1994)


“The Tune of Terror” – Even More Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs

The Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs series began in 1991, with R.C. Welch penning the first volume. The torch was later passed on to Q.L. Pearce for the next several entries (there were ten total). These books feature more violence and death than others like them.

The fourth book, Even More Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs, is off to a good start with the grisly opener “The Tune of Terror.” On his birthday, the young Juan buys a strange flute for $3 at a flea market. The seller was more than eager to part with the heirloom. Juan’s best friend remarks the flute looks like it’s made out of human bone, but Juan doesn’t care; he experiences a weirdly comforting sensation whenever he uses the flute. However, what Juan doesn’t realize is, he’s actually summoning a “hideous corpse” with an “eyeless skull.” Every played note brings this “loathsome entity” closer to him. And in its wake, the monster leaves behind a series of brutally murdered victims, including Juan’s next-door neighbors. In the end, the bewitched Juan is compelled to keep playing the flute, which only then leads his destroyer straight to his front door.

Scary Stories for Stormy Nights (1995)


“One Hot Night” – Scary Stories for Stormy Nights

Scary Stories for Stormy Nights and Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs were both published by Lowell House, although the latter’s first few volumes were originally published by Price Stern Sloan (which is now owned by Penguin). This spinoff series offers more of the same: mean, merciless horror for and about children.

R.C. Welch injected multiple entries here with a vital folk-horror element. “Bloody Laundry” has a Scottish messenger of death called the bean-nighe, and “The Good Deed” features a European water spirit known as the nix. As for “One Hot Night,” readers can’t help but think of The Wicker Man as they learn the fate of one hapless boy scout. Lee is on a campout with his troop when he runs into two random kids who are vacationing nearby. The protagonist, who is already annoyed by the “no campfires” rule in place because of the dry brush, is invited to a party thrown by the kids’ families. He’s enticed by the big fire they’re planning. Upon his arrival at the party, Lee notices people in robes standing around a bonfire containing a hollow effigy made of sticks. This story ends exactly as you think it will: Lee is taken as a sacrifice. The last line here is a fitting one: “Then he almost had to laugh — after all, he’d wanted a fire so badly.”

Still More Tales to Give You Goosebumps (1996)

Still More Tales to Give You Goosebumps, R.L. Stine

The fourth volume in R.L. Stine‘s Tales to Give You Goosebumps series delivered ten Halloween-themed stories, and for the most part, they’re all entertaining.

“The Scarecrow” could have easily been the standout of the bunch. It’s weird and unnerving. Sadly, the silly twist at the end knocks some points off. This leaves “An Old Story,” which may be one of Stine’s most disturbing works in the whole Goosebumps franchise. Two young brothers, Tom and Jon, are now being taken care of by their estranged aunt Dahlia while their parents work all the time. Neither boy remembers Dahlia, but they’re not going to question an adult. Under Dahlia’s care, the boys are fed only prunes, which cause them to become physically old. And when Dahlia’s friends show up, it’s clear what’s happening here — the aunt is turning children into old people so can then sell them as mates for her senior clients. Thankfully, Tom and Jon find an antidote that de-ages them, and they defeat Dahlia (by killing her with her own age-accelerating prune juice), who wasn’t even their aunt in the first place. The parents come home and realize they had let a stranger look after their boys. As if this story couldn’t be more upsetting, it’s implied at the end that this trafficking business didn’t stop at Dahlia; other kids are being targeted by their “aunts.” The original Goosebumps TV show also adapted this bizarre entry.

Bruce Coville’s Book of Ghosts II: More Tales to Haunt You (1997)

Bruce Coville’s Book of Ghosts II: More Tales to Haunt You, Bruce Coville

Bruce Coville is prolific enough in children and young-adult fiction to where his name will draw in readers. And it might appear this Bruce Coville’s Book of… series features only the My Teacher is an Alien author’s own work, but reading the cover’s fine print reveals the truth: these books are compilations of other authors’ stories as well as one original Coville short. This isn’t an uncommon practice in anthologies, and a lot of the time, the supporting writers outshine the headliner.

Neal Shusterman is no stranger to genre fiction. His contribution here, “Soul Survivor,” is proof that he knows his way around horror. In Donnie Darko fashion, a boy named Peter is killed when a failing jumbo jet destroys his house. His parents survive, but now Peter wanders the earth alone and scared. That is until he figures out how to possess people and manipulate their thoughts and actions. To his surprise, though, Peter’s current host, a rookie baseball player nicknamed Slam, is fully aware of his unexpected guest. Slam allows the spirit to stay, and naively, he informs Peter’s parents about their son’s whereabouts. The kind gesture backfires and Slam is ostracized by society. So it’s no shocker when Slam asks Peter to vacate, but what comes next is totally out of left field. At a marine park, Peter forces Slam’s soul into a dolphin. Yes, a dolphin. Unfortunately, Peter’s plan backfires when he realizes his host didn’t know how to swim. This leaves Peter no choice but to abandon ship. Slam’s soulless, dead body finally sinks to the bottom of the dolphin tank. As for Peter, he continues to body-jump and even implies he’s probably been inside your body at some point. What a creep!

The post 10 Classic Children’s Horror Anthology Books Worth Revisiting for Halloween appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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