From Page To Screen: Spooky Kid’s Literature That’s Getting Screen Time
by: Tristan Risk "Little Miss Risk"
At the risk of sounding a bit like an old fogey here, kid’s horror today doesn’t seem to be quite as scary as it was when I was a kid. Now, this is largely because personal experience varies from person to person, and when you’re a kid there is a wealth of things to be scared of - things in the closet, monsters under the bed, the fact that past generations have bankrupted the job market by the time you reach college age - but most kids like being scared by spooky things, and one of the best way to get them to read is a scary story. Sort of like an early literary version of clickbait.
However, modern kid’s horror doesn’t seem quite as scary as it once was. I can remember, as kids, we would all gather at one person’s house, my friends and I and hole up in an attic or crawlspace and read each other horror stories we found. To be fair, if one of us found porn in the woods, we’d give the spooky stuff a skip and marvel at people boning in magazines, but for the most part, horror was the high order of the day. We wanted to be scared. With the rise of the pop culture zombie, the scare has become a little… shall we say familiar. It’s hard to respect the shambling hordes of the undead when they are a cartoon on a knapsack. The systematic ‘un-horroring’ of modern horror elements is partly to blame, and victims of their own popularity.
And while this un-horrored horror is enjoying a momentary celebrity, let’s share that wealth and enthusiasm and introduce more of the old school scary kids books back to them. As a child, I spent a huge amount of time in the library. It was a haven from bullies and it was full of books, which was totally hunky dory with me. I revvelled in finding either every book about dragons to trying to read the scariest thing in print from the library’s collection.
These are scary stories that should be able to do what they do best, and scare kids.
Let’s not be coy about this - we live in a digital age in world ruled by the visual. Print still has it place, but it’s largely been found online and reading for pleasure has been on the decline among young people as the rise of social media grows and mobile phone usage is a way of life in developed countries. Trying to reach a younger audience with books is harder now that it’s been in the past, despite the wild popularity of books series such as The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter. I feel that it’s time to share some of the old gems, and make them accessible to the new generation, and hopefully spark an interest in reading.
Wait Til Helen Comes - Mary Downing Hanh
I remember taking this out of the library in the summer and being cold reading the eerie story of a family that moves into a rural converted church, only to have the youngest girl in the family befriend a lonely, albeit, murderous ghost who tries to entice her to kill herself. While as I child I loved it because it was a scary child’s book and made no bones about it (see what I did there?) it now serves my adult mind as a metaphor for having a member of the family in throes of depression. Or it’s just a scary story. Either way.
This novel will be getting the film treatment - IMDB tells me a release is actually coming up soon for a feature film based on this story. I’m pretty excited to see it, since it held a special place in my heart growing up, and made me wonder why my parents were so inconsiderate as to deny me allowing me the pleasure of growing up in a converted church, next to a haunted graveyard.
Bunnicula - James Howe
I read all the books in this series until the paperbacks disintegrated. I can remember taping my book back together and finally having to bail on them. But the stories and adventures about a vampire rabbit that drinks the juice of vegetables to survive with his canine and feline friend were too good to let go of. Harold, the dog is more pragmatic than Chester the cat, who is given to wild flights of fancy. Bunnicula just goes along, quietly draining veggies til they are a ghostly white.
This didn’t undergo the film treatment, but it is a popular animated series. A little less dark then I pictured, after investigating it on YouTube, but still, a fun show for wee ones to get into, and then introduce to the printed page. Or vice versa, if you want to read books together to get the hype for literacy there, which is always a good thing.
The Tailypo - Paul Galdone
This book is a pictured story book, not so much of the novel variety. It’s based off of old legends. and has a number of various versions. In this one, an old hermit finds a strange creature in the forest and cuts off it’s tail, but after he eats it, he is visited by this creature that terrorizes him with the lament of wanting it’s ’Taily-po’ back. I read this in grade three, and because of it I still get the heebee jeebies if I hear the cat at the scratching post in the night.
Being a fan of independent horror, I was STOKED when I heard someone had made this into a short film. While I haven’t yet seen it, I really hope that I do, and that every Halloween, teachers make their students watch this. If for no other reason than to burst into class shouting, ‘I want my Taily-po!!’ and see thirty elementary students void their bowels in unison.
The Red Room Riddle - Scott Corbett
I saved the best for last. One of the scary kids’ stories that I will not forget is The Red Room Riddle. Not just one, but MULTIPLE ghosts in a haunted house, including the spirit of a little boy, burned in is room. Dark stuff? Anyone who thinks childhood isn’t a dark time in life clearly was never a child, or has forgotten how scary childhood is. Children are little sponges, soaking up information around them, so it makes sense if they encounter ghostly playmates that they don’t question them - they just go with it. This all leads our two main characters on some interesting adventures, all with a wonderful ambience of spooky October evenings that are crisp.
Now, if you are of a certain age, like myself, you will remember than in an effort to get kids reading, they made tv movies for Saturday afternoons based on kid’s literature. One of these was The Red Room Riddle, which by today’s standards isn’t terribly spooky, but if given a contemporary treatment could have these kids scared out of the Monster High shoes and their cartoon zombie sweaters. Still, this can be found on YouTube, and is worth revisiting. Especially if you are babysitting a small human…