Easily, the book that scared me the most as a child - but also one of my favorites. Bar none the finest collection of scary stories for children. Written by Alvin Swartz, the stories within those pages make R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series seem like nursery rhymes.

The scary stories were collected from folklore and then retold. The stories are divided into different chapters, grouped by audience reaction. They include:

  • Stories that are meant to be recited to a person or group (preferably around a campfire or the like), and usually involve shouting the last line or grabbing the person next to you. These are usually the most fun - and the best part about them is that they are timeless!
  • Stories that frighten you by their spine-chilling endings, leaving you with nightmares for weeks and deep-rooted phobias of dark staircases, spiders and graveyards.
  • A few silly but revolting songs (The Hearse Song).
  • A chapter of "joke stories" to counter-balance the deep terror Swartz instills in small children - tales that make you laugh instead of scream. Its usually best to end with one of these to lighten the mood.
The stories deal with sophisticated topics - autopsy, burials, dismemberment - generally things that are avoided in childrens books. Hence the original bannings, and the general lack of availability in school libraries.

Although the stories contained within the pages are frightening, their impact is dependant on the illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Ambient, twisted, dark - these drawings woven out of spider webs and ink make me shudder even now. I believe his artwork convinced me, as a child, of the power of effective illustration - and made me want to pursue it as an art practice. If you want to check out a sampling, go to


However, I would suggest taking the book out of the library, curling up in a dark room (in an old house if possible) with a cup of tea and reading the whole damn thing - if you think you can handle it.

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