Oct 28, 2011  •  In Books, Personal, Scary

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark [Book Nostalgia]

With Halloween just around the corner, I recently developed a hankering for a scary book to re-read.

(Notice I said “re-read” — this is because my pregnant brain can’t handle anything new at the moment…doh!)

Sure, I could go for a classic like The Shining, or even my tried-and-true favorite horror novel, The Season of Passage. But I suddenly found myself waxing nostalgic for shorter, simpler tales from my childhood…

Enter The Scary Stories Trio.

If you grew up in the U.S. during the 80s and 90s as I have, there is a very good chance that these covers will bring back some memories.

There is also a very good chance that you were forbidden to read these books, as they were the most frequently challenged book for library banning from 1990-1999. (This fact comes as news to me. Did you know?)

The Scary Stories Trio consists of three books: Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkMore Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark; and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones. They are a collection of spooky folk tales and urband legends that author Alvin Schwartz has compiled for the younger crowd.

But perhaps the most memorable part of the Scary Stories Trio is not the stories themselves, but the fantastically grotesque and creepy illustrations that went along with them. Illustrator Stephen Gammell did one heckuva job carefully constructing each drawing to be completely horrifying and thoroughly memorable. For example, I have never been able to look at small hairless dogs the same way again after reading, and having the following image, burned into my mind:

And how about this lovely gem? I remember completely losing my sh*t the first time I turned the page to find this ghoul staring back at me:

Unfortunately, the heartless bastards over at HarperCollins have decided to re-print the Scary Stories Trio with the works of a new illustrator, Brett Helquist. I am sure that Mr. Helquist is a great illustrator, but do these covers even compare to the originals?

I have read that one of the reasons there was such a push to ban the original books was due to the terrifying drawings…so perhaps HarperCollins was trying to appeal to today’s bubble-wrap generation by re-printing the books with less frightening pictures?

I’m sorry, but that is a big fat epic FAIL in my opinion. Children are so much more resilient than we give them credit for. Sure, I may have been frightened by the original Scary Tales Trio, but that’s what made them so fun and memorable! And I would certainly not be opposed to my kids reading the same exact books in late elementary school, which is the age when I first became introduced to these books.

The good news is that there remain retailers who are still selling the original print of the Scary Tales Trio. Such as this seller who has available the boxed set, in new condition, for just $25. I have actually just bought the trilogy myself, because I don’t know what happened to my old, dog-eared copies of the books.

Do you remember the Scary Stories Trio from your childhood? Which were your favorite stories and illustrations?

Was the Scary Stories Trio banned from your school or library?

22 Responses to “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark [Book Nostalgia]”

  1. Yes! I had all of them (my mom still has them, I believe). I’m not sure if they were banned in our school libraries or not, but I always got them from our book orders.

    I’m terrified of spiders and I always have been. I remember there was a story about spiders hatching from a spot on a girl’s face and I remember being afraid that would happen to me!

  2. Nicole Robbins:

    OMG! To this day I still sing in my head “do you ever think when a hearse goes by that you may be the next to die”

    I LOVED it when I was in girl scouts camping and someone would bring those books to tell over flashlights in the tents or lodge! haha

  3. I’d forgotten about these books! (Though was trying to remember the stories.) They came to us via my aunt and uncle, who also included a tape of them reading the stories, in different voices for the characters in the stories, plus sound effects.

  4. Aaaah I had all of these! My mom might, still, I will have to make sure she keeps them. I can’t believe they reprinted with a new illustrator–those pictures were the best part of the book! I had no clue they were banned or challenged for banning, either.

  5. Di:

    You are so right about the illustrations! I actually was trying to think about whether I had read those or whether it was a different scary stories book. Then I saw the illustrations. THOSE are what I remember. They are totally perfectly terrifying.

  6. One of my best friends had these, and we’d read them at sleepovers – and then stay up most of the night, scared out of our wits! Those amazingly creepy illustrations were definitely part of the thrill of those books, and the new neutered covers are just depressing. I’m thinking I need to get my hands on the originals while they’re still available, and then “hide” them until my kid is old enough to find them and read them himself. Part of the appeal was definitely that my mother did not approve of the stories and their creepy pictures, but I didn’t realize they were ever actually banned.

  7. Stephanie:

    Oh my goodness, those drawings freaked me out! I couldn’t leave the books sitting out in my room while I was sleeping for that reason.

  8. T:

    Yep, i forget if i owned them or a friend did, but I know we spent a lot of time in the back of the school bus reading these (I had an hour long bus ride each way). And yes without the illustrations whats the point? I specifically remember the 2nd one you posted

  9. Yes I read the whole series! What creeped me out the most was the story about the boil where the girl scratched it and all these baby spiders came out. Gawd I got a shiver just writing this.

  10. Yes I remember them! And I re-bought them myself this month because I couldn’t figure out where my old copies went. I loved these stories as a kid and I drove my mom crazy with always wanting to check them out of the library.

    I am amazed they caused such a stir and that they were banned in libraries- I saw my very first copy in my elementary school library and I think I was introduced to the stories by a teacher :o) Liberal California.

    The image that has always stayed with me is the lady with the exploding cheek with spiders crawling out- GROSS!

    I wrote about these exact same books! Great post :o)

  11. Oh man, I remember those! I’m pretty sure I still have an original copy of at least the first one at my parents’ house – I should go look for it!

  12. I still have my original! It wasn’t banned at our school. In fact, I think I bought it through one of those school book fairs. The one that always got me was High Beams, the one about the killer crouched in the backseat of the car. To this day I check my backseat before I get in my car. (Well, now I kind of have to because I put a baby there, but you get my point.)

  13. wow! These bring back memories! I loved reading these books and have completely forgotten about them until I read this post. They really spooked me out when I was young. The drawings were really dark and awesome, kind of disappointing the publisher decided to tone down the illustrations today.

  14. The spider bite story was the one that terrified me the most too!! I grew up terrified that spiders would hatch out of my face one day.

    It really is a shame that they reprinted the books with less scary photos. I remember that the photos were my favorite parts of the book–back then, I LOVED scary stories (not so much now). Those illustrations were definitely burned into my mind. I got my books from our school library though, so they weren’t banned at my school, at least!

  15. HA! What a blast from the past!!! Those new covers are WEAK SAUCE…..

  16. I checked these out of the library all the time. I vividly remember the cover of the first one and that illustration you posted of the zombie-like character. That scared the crap out of me! I would totally buy the originals because the new covers and illustrations are just not disturbing enough!

    Interesting to know there was such debate about them back in the day.

  17. Becky:

    I LOVED these books growing up-and the illustrations were by far the scariest thing. So much better for a growing imagination then the lame unscary drawings.

  18. Oh my goodness, how I loved these books!!! The hook…adored that story… I read them over and over and over, and the illustrations were amazing! That is so disappointing that they changed them. Booooo. :(

    I’m really going to have to dig through my old stuff at home to see if I can find my beat up old copies: I read them to death! Maybe I should buy some new ones…

  19. David:

    Who wouldn’t remember reading these? I don’t remember all the stories, but the one that sticks out is the lady in the pickup truck who had a dude in the back seat with a knife, and the driver behind her kept flashing their high beams. I’m butchering it, but epic. And the artwork was the coup de grace, not to use a gory term. Get the originals on Amazon, not on Kindle either, you want to see the images jump out at you from within the pages. Then I moved to Goosebumps, etc, but RL Stine pales in comparison to this.

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  21. angelwing:

    Its was hard to get them at my elementary library. They were always checked out. I don’t remember any of the stories and I read all three. But I could never forget those illustrations they made the books scary. They are disturbing to me as an adult. LOL

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