To Read or Not to Read: A Goosebumps Dilemma

The Goosebumps craze begun in 1992 when American author R. L. Stine published the first book of the Goosebumps series, Welcome to Dead House. Loved by children, frowned upon by adults and to be found in nearly every single charity shop you enter for a pound or two. What makes Goosebumps so popular among children readers? The series had a massive success with various spin-offs emerging: Goosebumps Series 2000, Give Yourself Goosebumps, Tales to Give You Goosebumps, etc. Now there is over 180 books in the original series and the spin-offs combined, with it’s own merchandise involving (at the time) sneakers that left skeleton footprints, backpacks, watches and nearly anything else children might imagine and want. And all that was even before the TV adaptation appeared.

The plot is predictably same in all the books. The story is told from the perspective of a young teenager, girl or boy, who usually encounters something supernatural, whether it be a monster, an object or anything in between. The chapters end in cliff hangers that are mostly (once again) predictable, but still succesful in creating the tension the child needs to feel to be excited about reading the next chapter. The endings are good, the kid telling the story gets out of the evil clutches, but the supernatural “something” lives on, usually being passed on to another unsuspecting human being. The reader feels satisfied after the end because the hero got away, but in a morbid sense, the world seems fair as the evil lives on and pesters someone else’s life even if you got rid of it, for now (muhahaha *evil laugh*). The encounters aren’t the nightmare producing kind of story, but more the yucky, mysterious stories. They are usually not scary, because even the child knows it is not real. It is so fantastic that it cannot be real. In comparison to that, the fairy tales adults tell children are sometimes more frightening than the Goosebumps tales – a wolf eating your grandmother is a likely scenario in some countries, or a beast luring a young innocent girl into a mysterious building sounds very much like a rape news headline.

There is a lot of controversy about whether the books are too scary for children or if the fright level is acceptable. Librarians see the books as subliterature, with fake cliff hangers, flat characters, and just being too simple to be a real good book. Parents and librarians (not even thinking about the horror of a librarian parent) sometimes have the notion that children should be reading “better” books. But should they complain when children actually want to read something, even if they see it as worthless wasting of paper? In a research conducted in 2013, it shows that only 26% of 10 year-olds in England ‘like reading’, and a lot of countries surpass the UK in young children liking to read (have a look here).

So what do children like about the series that they come back for more and more books time and time again? First of all, we have to mention the simplicity of the books could be a big allure. Simple, yet fun to read. No big words. Even as a child you return to the writer and series you like, because you can’t go wrong with something you previously liked. The culture of the books make it hard to avoid them, as someone in a school is always reading them, suggesting them to others, talking about them, etc. The cool covers also help. When you tell kids not to do something, of course they have to do it. Same goes with these books. Each cover states: “Reader beware – you’re in for a scare!”, which automatically draws the child in. You can collect them as a set, with numbers printed on the spine making it easier and more convenient to put in order (and they look super nice lined up on your bookshelf). Also the genres of supernatural and horror is generally appealing to children as they know (at least my mum made it clear) that horror and “yucky” stuff isn’t for children.  That made me want to read the books so much more.

Should we try and object to children reading stories like these? Scary horror tales about mummies, haunted masks that don’t come off, ghosts and cameras that foretell accidents. Do they really have nothing of value for the younger generation? Are they real literature? In my opinion as an earlier reader of Goosebumps I’d say that they do teach us something. The kids in the story usually solve the problem on their own, independently without the help of adults. And in a sense I conquered some of my children’s fears in direct relation to Goosebumps, where I realised that living mummies and clothes that come alive and bind you and gag you while you’re asleep aren’t real and don’t exist, therefore I can leave my jumper on my chair while sleeping as it won’t gobble me up. Horror stories helped me cope with my real fears.

To sum it up, does it even matter if your child is reading a ‘simple, bad’ book? We learn to read by reading and kids have to start somewhere. If they like it and find it interesting, then why not? It’s been 25 years since the publication of the first Goosebumps book and has there been any confirmed research that these books influence children in any negative way? No, there hasn’t. Or at least I haven’t found one yet. But there have been proven increases in liking reading more by beginning with Goosebumps and just have a look at the sale son this mega-successful series. Children want to read. What more should we care about, when adults and parents moan so much about literature being pushed out of young children’s lives to make space for computers, video games and other forms of entertainment. One day I will give my child Goosebumps to read just to widen their horizons and give them more literary diversity than the strict school cannon offers. I don’t care that it’s ‘simple’ literature, I as an adult read lots of trashy literature too (guilty of historic romances). So why shouldn’t children enjoy the same freedom as adults in reading? They like it and read a book willingly? I say, let them.

Bibliography:

Deutsch, L. (2004). ‘Beyond Goosebumps: R.L. Stine on why writing doesn’t have to be scary.’ Writing! [Online] [Accessed on 9 Feb 2017] http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=mmucal5&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA127798573&it=r&asid=fe039f858851a00b31970dba5afaacd7

Lodge, S. (1996). ‘Life after Goosebumps: in the wake of R.L. Stine’s sizzling chiller series, the kids’ horror genre assumes monstrous proportions.’ Publishers Weekly. [Online] [Accessed on 5 Feb 2017] http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.mmu.ac.uk/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=mmucal5&id=GALE%7CA18897003&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&authCount=1

Nodelman, P. (1997). ‘Ordinary Monstrosity: The World of Goosebumps.’ Children’s Literature Association Quarterly. [Online] [Accessed on í Feb 2017] http://muse.jhu.edu.ezproxy.mmu.ac.uk/article/249648

Tanner, N. (2010). ‘Thrills, Chills, and Controversy: The Success of R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps.Dalhousie journal of interdisciplinary management. [Online] [Accessed on 9 Feb 2017] https://ojs.library.dal.ca/djim/article/view/2010vol6Tanner2/61

Rorke, R. (2005). ‘Scare tactics: by giving children Goosebumps, R.L. Stine cultivated a devoted readership.’ Publishers Weekly. [Online] [Accessed on 9 Feb 2017] http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.mmu.ac.uk/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=mmucal5&id=GALE%7CA133529623&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&authCount=1

Stine, R.L. (1996). Ghost Beach. Scholastic Ltd.: London.

Stine, R.L. (1998). The Haunted School. Schoastic Ltd.:London.

Wargo, S., and Graham, A. (1997). ‘Should kids read ‘Goosebumps?’ NEA Today. [Online] [Accessed on 9 Feb 2017] http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.mmu.ac.uk/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=mmucal5&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA20384373&inPS=true&linkSource=interlink&sid=AONE

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