October theme (Tracy Barrett)

Original cover
I find the claw marks scarier!

There’s a fine line between the enjoyable spookiness of a campfire ghost story and the kind of fear that’s no fun at all. It’s hard for tellers of tales to stay on the right side of that line because it’s drawn in different places for different people. I’ve had kids refuse to read the second book in my Sherlock Files series because they find the original cover too scary, even though the “monster” in the book turns out to be not at all dangerous (and not really a monster). Some parents have been afraid that the ghost in Cold in Summer will frighten their kids, even though she’s so timid that she makes Casper look terrifying.

Parents don’t always know what frightens their children beyond what’s enjoyable. My daughter told me that when she was little, she was seriously spooked by the General Electric radio commercial that said, “GE: We bring good things to life.” She thought that meant that they went to cemeteries and dug up dead people who had been good, and revived them. How could I have known that she was frightened by this? (She’s now 27 and very well adjusted.)

So the best we parents and we authors can do is, as always, our own limited best, and hope that our kids and our readers will let us in on how they’re feeling.


  1. I remember the two most scary things in my 8 eight old life. One was the back bedroom in my grandparents house. The light switch was on the back wall not next to the door so you had to cross the room to turn on the light...even at night. I used to take my little sister with me to turn on the light because I knew I could run faster then her and the whatever would get her first (sisterly love).

    The other scary thing was a tree stump stuck upside down in a deep clear mountain lake. With their snarly roots reaching for the surface, they were the perfect monster jaw waiting to grab an 8 year old floating by on an inner tube ...and pull them into the dark, green depths. Yikes!

    As a grown up, my scariest scenario was created in a dream that stuck with me forever. Just some old floor heat vents that whispered my name in the middle of the night... an airy, scary voice that came from the dirt floored cellar beneath my bedroom. I never did figure out what they wanted but I knew it wasn't good.

    It was never the monster you could see that scared me but the one that lurked unseen in my imagination, somewhere beyond the darkness.

    ...Oh, and then there was the river voices but I'll save that for another time.

    Happy Halloween!

    1. That tree stump in particular is a very spooky image!

  2. That's a really good point, Tracy--especially for MG readers: There's a fine line between fun-scary and painful-scary.

    1. And everyone's line is in a different place for different things!

  3. So how can you tell the difference between fun scary and painful scary? Not to mention dangerous scary and double-dog-dare-you scary? My daughter was afraid of scary eyes and scratchy noises even until she was in her mid teens (although she wouldn't admit it.)

    Should MG stories not have scary covers? Scary covers sell but dissuade some kids from reading because of the terrifying cover? Or should the author's synopsis on the jacket flap or back cover have a "scary index"? Such as:

    •(one dot)– imaginary scary i.e. 'friendly, shy ghosts' or dinosaurs (historical, aren't live now, magic gone wrong, being caught or chased.

    •• – Beast Scary (the will-eat-you kind); such as dragons, Bigfoot, Yeti, Sea serpents, resurrected Tyrannosaurus rex, Swamp monsters

    ••• – People monster scary (with minimal blood and guts); vampires , zombies, bad witches, werewolves

    •••• – Personal scary; Abduction, lost, haunted, death of friend/loved one, being turned into a blood sucking monster etc

    ••••• – Can't Sleep scary; blood, guts, hell, demons, being chased by soul-suckers, un-killable/undead monsters, bad ghosts, unseen menace, apocalypse, murder, mayhem and “GE: We bring good things to life.”

    I think it would give kids and parents a little hint of what was in the books without giving away the plot. Just a thought from a former kid who read everything and spent many sleepless nights with her brother's baseball bat under her pillow.

    1. Great rating system! But I'd have to add moths to the "Can't Sleep" one. Not butterflies, not bats--justt moths. I have no idea why, but they totally creep me out! Not too crazy about birds, either.


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