As a child, I did not like scary stories. I was that super-sensitive girl who had nightmares from fairy tale filmstrips. But there are a lot of non-Megan kids who enjoy being scared. I’m glad I’m a little braver now, because I missed all the books by R.L. Stine. (Twitter bio: “My job: to terrify kids.”) It’s clear that this author, who has sold more than 400 million books, is having so much fun. Which is to be expected for someone who once wrote under the pen name Jovial Bob Stine.
He said that his favorite fan letter ever was: “Dear R.L. Stine. I have read 40 of your books and I think they are really boring.”
Stine is the author of the Goosebumps series, for younger kids, the Fear Street series, for older ones, plus a couple of spooky picture books. This new graphic novel series, Just Beyond, of which The Scare School is the first, falls squarely in the middle-grade range.
Graphic novels allow for experimentation. In this book some panels are vertical, some horizontal, some zig-zag. My favorite is a page that is almost entirely white, to show us that our heroes have entered a new dimension. There is an austere school building behind them, and the one line of text says simply, “OMG.” No other panel in the book looks like this one, and the sudden whiteness is worthy of that dramatic exclamation.
The story has strong Stranger Things vibes. There is a group of kids from our world and a big ugly monster (although this one is partly mechanical). When Marco says, “I love happy endings, don’t you?” and there is still a page to go, it’s clear there will be no happy ending yet. Welcome to the cliffhanger: time to buy the next book.
In graduate school I was the TA for a freshman lit class that focused on horror. We used the guideline that horror is the difference between what we expect and what actually is. That’s a nice, broad description that includes everything from a scary school to the 2020 we were expecting on New Year’s Eve and the one we actually got. Instead of asking, How do you face a pandemic, Stine instead asks, How do you face evil drogg monsters? For both you need bravery, cleverness, and loyal friends. (A dog named Lucky also helps.)
Now that I can enjoy an occasional spooky story, I usually read something scary in October. The truth is that I don’t know what monsters I’ll have to face or what will finally defeat them. But I’ll go there with Jovial Bob Stine, who doesn’t take his scares too seriously. Describing his apartment-based office, he says this:
And I do have some creepy atmosphere — a life-sized skeleton, some plastic rats, and a cup full of eyeballs. But that’s just in case kids come by.”
The next Children’s Book Club will meet Friday, November 13. We’ll read a picture book by Oge Mora titled Saturday, about how a mother and daughter adapt when weekend plans go awry. They do not stuff their feelings.
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“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro