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When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scary Stories--Halloween 2013

Perhaps it's the gloomy rainy weather.  Or it might be the combination of heavy mist and smoke from burning leaves hanging in the air.  My furry friend is restless which does not bode well for the night ahead; her senses more keenly aware than mine.  It's October 31, 2013.

Today, since the atmosphere is charged with uncertainty and general spookiness, I'm going to my personal bookshelves, stacked with more than sixty Halloween books, books filled with fun and frights to delight every age.  These ten story collections contain some of the best shiver-inducing stories I've had the pleasure of sharing over the years.  Get cozy, make sure all the doors and windows are locked and turn off the lights.

The Haunting of America: Ghost Stories from Our Past by Jean Anderson with illustrations by Eric von Schmidt (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1973)
Twenty-four stories told again and again across our United States are gathered here by Jean Anderson for all to enjoy.  Of these, my favorite is The Harp Player of Pitcher's Point.  As the story goes, a place along the Mississippi Gulf Coast is haunted.  A ship's captain and his first mate, overcome by greed commit a horrible deed.  A lady with a harp does not forget; her music heard to this day.

A Taste For Quiet and Other Disquieting Tales by Judith Gorog, illustrations by Jeanne Titherington (Philomel Books, 1982) 
These twelve tales will unsettle you in most unexpected ways; not necessarily frightening but causing you to pause and reflect.  One of my favorites for any storytelling session, not only at Halloween, is Those Three Wishes.  Melinda Alice, known as Melinda Malice by her classmates, is clever and cruel. On a walk to school one morning, she nearly crushes a snail on the sidewalk deliberately.  What stops her is a promise of three wishes from this snail, a talking snail.  You really should be careful for what you wish.

No Swimming In Dark Pond and Other Chilling Tales by Judith Gorog (Philomel Books, 1987)
In this collection of thirteen, Judith Gorog heightens the fear factor.  The title story, No Swimming In Dark Pond, describes Matilda who would rather have the pond all to herself, scaring people when they are swimming.  Now all alone at the pond, she is satisfied her plan worked, until one day when she goes swimming.
 Gorog's version of Hookman is one of the scariest I have ever read. A drive down a deserted dirt road to get a forgotten suitcase ends any plans for a happy honeymoon.
Dr. Egger's Favorite Dog tells the tale of a doctor who does not have a great affection for dogs. She comes to realize they will protect those they love, even if they are no longer among the living.

When the Lights Go Out: 20 Scary Tales To Tell by Margaret Read MacDonald with illustrations by Roxane Murphy (The H. W. Wilson Company, 1988)
Margaret Read MacDonald, known for her collections of stories, divides this group into Not Too Scary, Scary In The Dark, Gross Stuff, Jump Tales, Tales To Act Out and Tales To Draw Or Stir Up.  A perennial favorite any time of the year is The Tale of a Black Cat.  This drawing story finds Tommy and his friend Sally facing something more than a new house.  For storytellers at any stage in their storytelling, this is a fantastic resource.

Things That Go Bump in the Night: a collection of original stories edited by Jane Yolen and Martin H. Greenberg (Harper & Row Publishers, 1989)
Eighteen stories by eighteen authors, many well-known in the field of children's literature are collected in this title.
Duffy's Jacket (Bruce Coville) tells the tale of a very forgetful boy, prone to leaving and losing his personal items.  One evening, after having left his jacket in the woods, he and his cousins are left alone in the cabin as their moms head into town.  A scratching sound can only mean one thing.  Someone, something, really was following them in the woods earlier.
Meech tries his best, but whatever he does old Mrs. Foss is never satisfied.  Leaves (Mary K. Whittington) tells of his raking her leaves for years.  You would think now that she's dead, he is done with this yearly job.  Mrs. Foss and her trees will have their way.
My favorite in this volume, by far, is The Babysitter (Jane Yolen).  It's the best babysitter story ever written in my opinion.  Hilary really does not like babysitting for the boys at the Mitchell's house.  Their stories of "Them" give her the shivers as does the ritual the boys insist on doing as they go down the hall to their bedroom.  The night before Halloween will be one Hilary remembers because of an intruder and "Them".  (Getting goosebumps just writing this.)

The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia McKissack with illustrations by Brian Pinkney (Scholastic, 1992)(Newbery Honor, Coretta Scott King Author Award)
Of these ten original stories, capturing the history of the African American storytelling tradition, my favorite is The Legend of Pin Oak.  A plantation owner harbors a hatred for one of the male slaves, now married with a son.  A sale takes an unexpected twist at the edge of cliffs overlooking the river falls.  Three birds, a hidden cave and an underground railroad conductor add to the mystery.

The Ghost & I: Scary Stories For Participatory Telling edited by Jennifer Justice (Owl Moon Press, 1992)
I have used this book so much it is literally falling apart.  It is divided into three sections for ages 5-8, ages 9-11 and ages 12 and up.
The Graveyard Voice (Betty Lehrman) in the first section is the kind of story engaging readers right until the final words.  Groans and giggles will quickly follow.  An ordinary man with an ordinary family lives next to a graveyard.  One Halloween everything changes to the extraordinary.  The Witch Who 'Cracked Up' (Flora Joy) is a delightful tangram story.  Students can follow along using their own tangrams.
In section two Uncle Bill's Dream (Robin Moore) goes from haunting to hilarious.  A dream, a witch, a donkey and it's droppings make for an interesting combination.  It's grossness is sure to bring on the laughs.
From section three, The Woman in Grey (Shelia Dailey) and The Vampire Skeleton (Joseph Bruchac) are excellent.  In the first we find ourselves in a shopkeeper's market. He is waiting on a sad-eyed customer all dressed in grey.  Each time she comes to the store she leaves with a bottle of milk. No words are spoken.  No money changes hands. What is her secret?
A Native American woman, her husband and child are walking through the woods to another village in the second tale.  As night falls the husband, despite his wife's words of warning, urges them to stay in a hut in the woods.  What lurks inside the hut?  Who will survive?

Scary Story Reader: Forty-One of the Scariest Stories for Sleepovers, Campfires, Car & Bus Trips--Even for First Dates collected by Richard and Judy Dockrey Young, introduction by Jan Harold Brunvand, illustrations by Wendell E. Hall (August House Publishers, Inc., 1993)
With chapter headings like The Classic Urban Legends, The Urban Runners-Up, A Terror Tour of Our Nation, Jump!, Laugh Yourself to Death, and Our Favorite Horror Tales, there is something for everyone in this collection.  The one most requested, the one promoting the most discussion after the telling, is The Call from the Grave.  An old farm in the country is home to a little girl, her parents and grandfather.  When he dies her sadness is only lessened with the comfort of being able to see his grave from her home in the nearby cemetery.  A late babysitter, a terrifying storm and an unexpected phone call, give the girl sure knowledge that love transcends even death. 

Queen of the Cold-Blooded Tales by Roberta Simpson Brown (August House Publishers, Inc., 1993)
All of the stories written by Roberta Simpson Brown are chilling and not for the faint of heart.  Many take place in familiar places.  One which I have used with older students, upper middle and high school, is The Whittler.  It begins with a group of boys camping.  Their leader Arnold Fremont has just finished telling a scary story.  They beg him for one more, The Whittler.  Sometimes what we fear the most should not be the ghost.  Sometimes what we should fear is among us.  (This story is a ten on the creepy scale.)

Great Ghost Stories selected and illustrated by Barry Moser (Books of Wonder, William Morrow and Company, 1998)
These thirteen stories fall under the classic category; stories like The Monkey's Paw (W. W. Jacobs), How It Happened (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) or Dead Aaron (retold by James Haskins).  By far the most haunting is Polly Vaughn retold by Barry Moser.  I would recommend this for older audiences.  Polly and Jimmy, sweethearts for most of their lives, are getting married soon.  Both their families live in cabins in the mountains, their fathers working in the coal mines.  Hunting is an important part of becoming a man in the mountains.  Jimmy, after his first kill at the age of ten, has no desire to do it ever again.  On his way to meet Polly one afternoon, his mother calls him back, urging him to carry his gun.  They need food.  A heartbreaking tragedy occurs, lives will be lost and a voice from the grave is not heeded.  (Even reading this story again today, I find it unforgettable.  Even beyond the enjoyment factor, there is much to discuss.)

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