Stories That Scared Julia to Death as a Kid

Happy Halloween, all! As an adult, I’ve never been a big horror reader, but while recording a Halloween podcast with Justine I realized that I used to binge the stuff as a kid. Fast forward to now when all I want to do is dive into my old classics.

Here are some of the books that freaked me out as a child (some of which still creep me out to this day):

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark retold by Alvin Schwartz

The holy grail of scary stories, these books were always checked out of my school library. (There are three in the series.) My friends and I would sit around and read these out to each other, trying to freak each other out as much as possible. Well, apparently it was a success because I am still afraid of:

1) Men trying to kill me while hiding in the back seat of my car

2) Spiders exploding from my face

3) Putting on a secondhand evening dress and DYING because of it

4) Going anywhere near a state penitentiary with any boyfriend ever, especially if that place is a cabin or a car.

The illustrations that went along with these book only made things more horrifying. Accept no modernized substitutes.

“The Girl with the Green Ribbon” in In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Stories retold by Alvin Schwartz

Apparently I am not the only one who was traumatized by this story in In a Dark, Dark Room. There is an entire BuzzFeed article appropriately named “For Everyone Who’s Still Fucked Up Over That Story About the Girl with the Green Ribbon Around Her Neck” and it perfectly captures what it is that is so horrifying about that story. I want to say I never wore chokers because of this, but I am a child of the late ‘80s and ‘90s so we all know that amounts to a bold-faced lie. (Hello black velvet choker with a plastic cameo I got from Claire’s…)

As with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the illustrations with this story made it all seem even worse. (Someone hold me.)

The Johnny Dixon series by John Bellairs

Before we talk about this series, we need to talk about book covers because apparently illustration runs strong in this recommendation list. I read this wonderful series that starts with The Curse of the Blue Figurine when I was in middle school with the original Edward Gorey covers. That’s right, Edward Gorey, master of macabre line drawings, the PBS Mystery! theme, and the Gashlycrumbs Tinies alphabet. (“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs.”) The man was a genius of witty, creepy art. And yet as I search the internet I find that these books have been recovered. Sigh. Why can’t we just leave beautiful things alone?

The reason for this mini rant is that Gorey’s artwork and John Bellairs’ weird, gothic mysteries were a perfect fit. Basically the premise of the series is that Johnny goes to live with his grandparents, meets the eccentric Professor Childermass, and is off on spooky adventures. I ripped through the entire Johnny Dixon series as a kid and am seriously contemplating a re-read as an adult. (The Mummy, the Will and the Crypt remains a favorite.) Another John Bellairs classic, The House with the Clock in Its Walls, was recently made into a movie, which is great, but these are the books I’d reach for again.

The Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine

What would an American of my generation’s favorite children’s horror book list be without Goosebumps? When my friend Mat got the chance to interview R.L. Stine, he messaged me to brag and ask what I would ask the prolific author. My mind melted a little out of jealousy, and I can’t actually remember what I said but I’m sure it was something like “pleasetellhimIlovedhisbooksandtheonewiththeventrioiquistdummyscaredmetodeathokaybye.”

There really are too many Goosebumps books to single out a favorite. (Although Say Cheese and Die may be my favorite title.) Suffice it to say, I read as many as I could get my hands on as a kid, and I’m delighted to see that kids still seem to be reading them.

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The Fear Street Saga series by R.L. Stine

A dark family legacy? Check

Witch burned at the stake? Check.

A kind of glamorous woman on the cover? Check.

I read Fear Street under my desk in Mr. Chamber’s math class in fifth grade. (Sorry, Mr. Chambers.) I did this not because I was a bad student, although math was never my strong suit. I did it because I couldn’t stop reading these books. The Fear Street Saga series was totally compulsive, combining a lot of things I love into one crazy, ‘80stastic teen horror binge reading session before any of us knew was content binging was.

Bunnicula by Deborah Howe

Okay, so this isn’t really a horror book. I mean, it’s told by a dog, is about a maybe vampire bunny, and is pretty damn cute. But when you’re a kid and you like animals, it’s great. And I’m sure as kid it seemed kind of creepy! (Just go with it.) Again, this one is a classic, and I’m delighted to see that, at least according to Amazon, it’s still going strong.

It also has the best tagline in publishing: “Today vegetables… Tomorrow the world!”

I’d love to hear about the books you loved that creeped you out as a kid. Just leave us a comment below.