It is publicly acknowledged that I am fearless and dread nothing. But that isn’t to say I cannot recognize the creepiness of some children’s books, including some that were actually meant to frighten.
Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark series by Alvin Schwartz (with illustrations by Stephen Gammell)
Supremely unsettling tales of folklore and urban legends, illustrated with spidery, surreal drawings that are guaranteed to creep you out at any age. To the pre-Goosebumps generation, this is the cornerstone text of scary-ass children’s literature. Extra kudos for not only being a frequent guest on the Banned Books list, but having entire stories removed for subsequent editions.
The Twits by Roald Dahl (with illustrations by Quentin Blake)
Dahl has a bevy of beloved bestsellers, but this anti-beard screed about scary neighbors never seemed to be as widely-read as his hits. Which is to say, I was the only one I knew who wrote a book report on it. Because it scared me to death. Mr. Twit eats food out of his beard? They play cruel pranks upon each other for fun? Why are they so goddamned abusive to their pets? And let’s be real here, twit is also clearly one of the greatest words of the English language. It almost sounds like an obscenity but it’s not. TWIT! What a word!
The Amazing Bone by William Steig
In The Amazing Bone, a pig named Pearl finds a bone that lets her speak any language. As she walks home, she encounters a number of perilous obstacles. It’s pretty basic stuff, but worth it for the drawings. Steig is someone who I appreciate more now that I’m older, especially for his illustrations. His art is childlike, almost outsider fare, but for some reason it creeps me out big time. Perhaps because of the primitive quality, some illustrations looks like they were scrawled in the witness box by a child who saw their parents tortured. Most importantly, the image at the top of the page really freaked me out when I was young. I wondered if I was supposed to be seeing things like this at such a young age. It seemed R-rated.
Lord Of The Flies by William Golding
Golding’s 1954 novel, set in the midst of an unspecified nuclear war, begins with a plane crashing into a remote island. The only survivors are adolescent boys. Even as an adolescent boy reader, I knew this book was my living hell. Then the kids start to argue and fight with one another, a clash of groupthink mentality and individuality themes that meant nothing to my child mind because, come on, no parents, no girls, and no bathrooms?! It was later assigned for school reading; I distinctly remember everyone in class seemed impressed that I had already read the book. Little did they know my childhood innocence ended when the savages brained Piggy.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
You remember this one, of course you do. The beautiful tree gives selfless love to the little boy, providing him a trunk to climb, apples to sell, branches to build a boat with. By the time the book is done, the little jerk has grown into an old man. Having used up every last piece of wood, the old man finds just a stump where his beloved apple tree once stood proud and majestic. Fittingly, and to my eternal horror, he pops a squat on the corpse. This book is like an S/M primer.
by Andrew Wetzel