The world seems like a scary place, especially this time of year. Jack-o-lanterns with their fiendishly frightening faces leer at us from front porches. Faceless witches and scarecrows dot the landscape, seemingly alive as they sway in the breeze. We turned an ancient Irish harvest festival into a celebration of costumes, candy and symbols rooted in lore, legend and superstition; albeit with some ability to control our environment.

School shootings, hurricanes, church bombings and earthquakes are just as scary but we have little, if any control over these terrifying acts. Bullying, harassment and peer pressure can be terrifying situations in schools and the workplace.

As adults we are able to use our knowledge and experience to understand and make sense of the world. We know, or can quickly learn who/where to turn for help and reassurance. But what about our children, who have very little, if any, control in their lives? When we read books, we create a safe world in which to be scared, because we can control and learn within the safety of the story.

Reading a scary book gives us power when we feel powerless. In essence any scary book is about the battle between good and evil. These tales teach us there is always something worse than what we imagine. For children, these books provide the opportunity to identify with a powerful entity/person who can and does overcome fear.

We can be safely scared inside a story. At any time you can stop reading and relegate your fear to the pages of the book. Children can stop their fear before they become overwhelmed with petrifying thoughts. Who among us has not felt our hearts race by a creepy scene, the bloodcurdling scream of a character, of the menacing threat of a creature? We can stop at any point while understanding we are in a setting that allows us to control our dread, terror and anxiety.

The oldest scary stories, now referred to as cautionary tales, were told orally as a way to educate listeners about the dangers in their world. Long before there was “Stranger Danger” children learned to develop a healthy skepticism of outsiders by hearing the tales of The Three Little Pigs, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood. San zhi xiao zhu is the Chinese version of the Three Little Pigs; in this case they were goats. In the North African tradition of Little Red Riding Hood, the little girl visits her granddad in his cabin and is recognized by the sound of her bracelets.

The tales have now been sanitized because it was thought the original versions were “too scary” for children. In my opinion, children heard the truth of the tales and it was the adults who were uncomfortable with the graphic details. So now we have the Disney version in which the pigs dance and wear sailor suits. What an insult to pigs!

Have you decided you are ready to read a scary book? Here are a few of my favorites.

“Interview with the Vampire” by Anne Rice

“Rosemary’s Baby” by Ira Levin

“Something Wicked This Way Comes,” by Ray Bradbury

R.L. Stine’s Ghosts of Fear Street series

Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry

Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories series

“Coraline” by Gaiman, Neil

“The House with a Clock in its Walls” by John Bellairs

If you really want to be terrified out of your skin, talk to Susan. She can recommend books that will scare the bejeezus out of you.

When Witches Go Riding and

Black Cats Are Seen,

The Moon Laughs and Whispers

‘Tis Near Halloween.


Molly S. Kinney is the director at the Mifflin County Library. She is listening to “Silver Kiss,” written by her friend Annette Curtis Klause. Teenage vampire romance just doesn’t get any better.