Goosebumps books provoked controversy
Goosebumps books capture the imagination of middle-grade readers, particularly boys. For me, that alone is enough to make them good books. However, the Goosebumps books have been the topic of discussion among writers, readers, and teachers ever since the first one hit the market in 1992. For years I read posts and comments, and listened to people put down the books. They were fluff. They were bad for children. They had no literary value. Those making the comments bemoaned the fact that children in droves gobbled up the Goosebumps books. All the while, I found I never could embrace that perspective. My main reason being that children read them. As a lifelong reader, any book that draws in even the most reluctant of readers has value and purpose. Like most, I hadn’t read them.
Goosebumps series read world-wide
The stats were amazing. In the first five years, RL Stine produced 62 Goosebumps books. His series is now in 32 languages and spin-offs continue. Today, RL Stine has sold over 350 million books. Don’t know about you, but that pretty much boggles my mind. Stine keeps it simple. He says, “My job is to give kids the CREEPS.” For me, as a writer, his over-whelming success led me to take a closer look at his popular series.
Goosebumps readers are discerning
To begin my quest to learn more about the appeal of the Goosebumps series by RL Stine, I knew what I had to do: Read the books. I spent one Saturday morning scanning the many volumes and trying to decide where I should start when an obvious devoted fan appeared.
I stood back and watched as he pulled books, examined the cover, read the blurb, and opened the pages. He did this several times. Finally, I summoned the courage to talk to this boy who clearly knew his RL Stine Goosebumps books. He instantly suggested I not start with the book in my hand. Instead, he ran his fingers over the volumes and began to pick out specific books that he recommended. Not only did he give me the titles, he gave me a brief summary of why I should read that book. Clearly, I hit pay dirt. I had a Goosebumps expert guiding me. He spent thirty minutes schooling me in Goosebumps.
What I learned from RL Stine
After reading several books in the Goosebumps series, I noticed a couple of things. First, RL Stine was, and is, masterful in the way he dispenses horror to young readers. He takes them to the very precipice where they don’t think they can handle anymore; then he quickly reels them back in by deftly deploying humor to release the pent-up tension. The scary snake coiled around a character’s leg becomes soft like a feather and tickles. The horrific is tamed. Stine’s readers know they can trust that he will provide them with a safe place. It’s okay to be scared. Stine repeats this over and over.
While Stine says his books do not have a moral, I disagree. Morality is embedded within the structure of the stories. The characters must make choices. They take the wrong road at their peril. True, all works out in the end, but as in fairy tales, you may have to face a lot of scary situations and things that go bump in the night before you reach the end.
Whether they are labeled horror or thriller, RL Stine’s books continue to entrance children, and yes, the books continue to have a history of being challenged. I remain convinced that RL Stine and the Goosebumps series are a boon for young readers, and especially for those kids who are not book-tolerant. I say, “Go Goosebumps!”
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