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Kim's Book Reviews
| Home | Picture Books | Traditional Literature | Poetry | Nonfiction | Historical Fiction | Fantasy & Young Adult Fiction | Author Study: Lois Ehlert

Collected from Folklore and Retold by Alvin Schwartz


Schwartz, Alvin. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. Illustrated by Stephen Gammell. New York: HarperCollins Childrens Books, 1981. ISBN 0397319266.


A collection of horror stories and legends to share with friends late at night.


Alvin Schwartz prefaces this spine-tingling collection of scary stories with a brief discussion on the tradition of such tales from the time of Shakespeare, to pioneer days, to today.  He also talks briefly about the origins of the tales, saying that most of them "are based on things that people saw or heard or experienced or thought they did."(p.2) The book is organized into five categories:  things to make you jump with fright; ghost stories, other scary things, recent scary stories, and scary stories to make you laugh.


At the end of the book, Schwartz includes notes with background information on many of the stories in the collection and additional information on other legends and beliefs. For example, he tells you what you should do if you encounter a ghost, "... it is advised that you speak to it. If you do so, you may be able to help it finish whatever it is doing and return to the grave." (p.93) After these interesting notes, he includes a listing of sources for each story included in the book and a bibliography. He places asterisks by books in the bibliography which may be of interest to young people.


One of my favorite stories in the book is HIGH BEAMS. The plot is simple and direct. A young girl in a car is being pursued by a truck late at night. It is something that we all can identify with. This makes the story particularly scary.  The setting is also familiar, a country road late at night. The pace of the story is quick, the language designed to imitate the quickening pace of the girl's pulse as she speeds toward home. In the end, we are surprised to learn that the man in pursuit of the girl is actually a hero, the villain was in her backseat, and the man in the truck was trying to warn her. The final lines send a chill down the spine, "Each time the man in the back seat reached up to overpower her, the driver of the truck turned on his high beams. Then the man dropped down, afraid that someone would see him."


The sketchy, black and white illustrations add to the spooky mood of the tales. For example, the picture accompanying THE WHITE SATIN GOWN, a story about a dress taken from a dead girl and placed in a pawn shop, shows the gown on a hanger with phantom arms and legs attached. The stories in the book are short; the longest one is three pages. Schwartz has retained the oral flavor of the tales; they are easy to read aloud. This book will appeal to older elementary and middle school students.

Traditional Literature