By: Pat Peters
R.L. Stine celebrated his birthday on October 8. Best known for his series of Goosebumps books for kids, Stine has been writing scary stories for over 30 years and has 330 published titles to his credit. In fact, his Goosebumps series, with 130 titles and still growing, turns 25 this year!
And of course, because he writes scary books, Stine is no stranger to censorship. His Goosebumps series came in at #15 on a list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of the 1990s, but the series had dropped to #94 on the same list for the 2000s. (ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom 2017) Not that scary was out of fashion, as Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was at #7 for the 2000s, but it almost seems that Stine and his Goosebumps weren’t quite so scary for adults by then.
The usual reason given when one of the Goosebumps books is challenged is that it’s too scary for the age group. But R.L. Stine, who started out writing jokes but realized he was much better at scary, knows that fear sells. Often referred to as the “Stephen King of the younger set,” Stine includes just enough fright to give kids a charge of adrenaline, but his characters always manage to deal with their fears and get out alive. Writes Alissa Nutting about the series: “Fear is at the heart of Goosebumps, a series that acts in the same way that immunizations do, and it’s just as mandatory for children’s health. It gives them a small dose of scary and lets them produce needed antibodies towards fear, book after book, so that they slowly become less affected.” (Nutting Sept. 20, 2013)
Adults sometimes don’t realize that children can learn from a negative situation. Too often, plot points are taken out of context and judged for themselves. Of course, you don’t want children to experience violence or fear in real life. That’s exactly the point of reading: giving readers the opportunity to experience vicariously and learn from a difficult situation so they don’t HAVE to experience it for themselves.
And for a child who finds Goosebumps too scary? “ … Children who aren’t ready to read them or don’t want to read them likely won’t: at Johnsonville Elementary School in Blaine, Minnesota (one school where the books were challenged), the principal defended the series by stating that while his eleven-year-old son reads them furiously, his ten-year-old daughter chooses not to touch them. She knows that for her, they would not be a positive experience. Kids can choose.” (Nutting Sept. 20, 2013). What a concept!
I just saw on a librarian Facebook page that a school librarian has just been dealing with another challenge to the Goosebumps series, yes in 2017! But thanks to positive support and a reasonable response to the challenge, Stine’s books are back on those shelves for the kids.
Happy Birthday, R.L. Stine! Please, keep on scaring us!
Pat Peters is director of the Decatur Public Library in Decatur, Texas. In her spare time, she is an adjunct professor of Library Science for Texas Woman’s University, having taught both graduate and undergraduate Children’s Literature and Youth Programming. Pat is the 2016-17 chair of the Texas Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee. Pat and her husband Jeff live in Denton, Texas. Pat can sometimes be found @PatriciaP628.