The CreEpy Catalog: On the Day I Died
In order to write great children’s horror, you must READ great children’s horror. To help you out with this, we’ve invited our very own middle school librarian to take you into the deepest, darkest corners of the stacks to see what frightening fiction kids are reading. Welcome to the CreEpy Catalog!
One of the things I love about working in a middle school library is that kids have the ability to read independently, but they still love being read aloud to. Once a week, I have a group of fifth graders for library class, and I love the experience of making the story come alive for them and discussing it with them afterwards. The request I get the most is for scary stories.
Most of the kids are already familiar with the Alvin Schwartz Scary Stories books, so I try to find something new that has the same appeal. I have used Candace Fleming’s book On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave several times as a read-aloud.
The story begins as sixteen-year-old Mike Kowalski is rushing home to make his curfew, and gives a ride to a girl he finds alone on the road. A direct take on the old Vanishing Hitchhiker urban legend, Fleming takes her character (and her readers) into a cemetery that has a special plot reserved for teenagers. The teen ghosts approach Mike, anxious to share their stories. One by one, they come forward to tell him how they died. Each teenage ghost has his or her own chapter, and while there are brief transitions to dovetail one story into the next, each section can be read independently.
The stories range from 1950’s inspired science fiction to typical haunted asylum ghosts, and it doesn’t take much from me to spark conversations after the readings. I only need to ask how they liked one story compared to the others we’ve read, and the students begin volunteering their thoughts on why some stories were scarier than others.
In a middle school that serves grades 5-8, there is a very wide range of reading abilities, interests, and emotional developments to consider when selecting or recommending a book. Some students want a story that’s kinda creepy but also funny, and others want to read the very stuff of nightmares. Some students are asking for Stephen King books through inter-library loan while others are struggling to read Scary Stories books. A compilation of short stories allows the students to feel accomplished no matter how quickly they read; the faster readers have the satisfaction of finishing multiple stories in the time it usually takes to finish one book while readers who struggle can read one short story at a time, and not feel like they’re ‘behind’ because there are very clear markers for what they’ve accomplished.
Whenever I read On the Day I Died, I do my best to make each story stand out by using voice inflection and hand and facial gestures to differentiate the characters and add authenticity; I even use jump scares to engage the children!
Sometimes a student will come in the very next day and want to check out On the Day I Died. But the best response involved a student and her friends who found the book on the shelves and then asked me to read one of the stories aloud to them.
I wish campfires were allowed in the library…
Erin works in a school library in Maine. She first discovered how much she enjoyed reading horror stories when she was eight years old and read Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. Erin has a master’s degree in History as well as Children’s Literature. She has a love for the macabre, including (but not limited to) Ouija boards, historic cemeteries, post-mortem photography, creepy antique dolls, black cats, and Halloween. Her favorite horror novel is Pet Semetary by Stephen King. Erin blogs at thetiedyedlibrarian.blogspot.com.