As many of you know, I was a preschool teacher for 18 years. I read a good number of picture books to a good number of students during that time. Some of those books I could probably still recite, word for word, to this day.
Every now and again, depending on my class and their various temperaments, we would dive into the deep, dark world of scary picture books. Presented in the right way, at the right time, a good scary book, can lead you right up to the edge of not being able to take it before tipping back over into simple pure spine-tingling fun. There’s nothing nicer than getting all creeped out whilst safe and warm with your friends in a brightly lit classroom.
Our favourites over the years included:
The Hobyahs retold by Brenda Parkes
A traditional tale with scary creatures that only come out at night, to avoid being attacked by little dog Turpie, who gets tied up a night. They sing a scary, rhyming tune each time that drives little dog Turpie nuts –
Tear down the house, Heh! Heh! Heh!
Tie up the old man, Heh! Heh! Heh!
Tie up the old women, Heh! Heh! Heh!
Then we’ll put the little girl
in our Hobyah machine.
But his barking annoys the little old man, so they shut him up in a bag one night with devastating results:
Gleefully the Hobyahs tore down the stick house.
They tied up the old man.
They tied up the old woman.
Then they put the little girl in their Hobyah machine.
They took the little girl into the deep, dark, damp swamp.
We’re slimy and green
We’ve got the tiny girl in our Hobyah machine“
If that doesn’t get a tingle going up and down your spine, then nothing will!
Needless to say, little dog Turpie saves the day.
In a Dark Dark Wood
A traditional poem that I used to recite on rainy days.
In a dark, dark wood there was a dark, dark house;
And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room;
And in the dark, dark room there was a dark, dark cupboard;
And in the dark, dark cupboard there was a dark, dark shelf;
And on the dark, dark shelf there was a dark, dark box;
And in the dark, dark box there was a
The Gingerbread Man retold by Bonnie & Bill Rutherford
This Golden Book version was the one I had as a child.
It was also the one in my preschool library.
I loved reading it out loud – it had a lovely cadence and rhyme.
And the moment when the gingerbread man got his comeuppance with the fox, was beautifully choreographed to allow me to do a very LOUD clap as I turned the page for,
That sly old fox gobbled the gingerbread man right up! ‘
Naturally this story always led us to making our very own gingerbread men.
The Spooky Old Tree by Stan & Jan Berenstain
A truly spooky tale of three bears venturing into a spooky old tree in the dark!
What could possibly go wrong?
Depending on my class, I could ramp up the scare factor with a quiet, breathless, drawn out retelling or I could simply read it straight to minimise the fright.
One class became obsessed with it and I had to read this story 2-3 times a day for about 5 months.
The local bookshop had to order in 20 copies of the book as everyone wanted to take one home.
I made a board game of the spooky old tree and we re-enacted the running home safe to mother’s arm over and over again.
Then, suddenly, one day the need was met and the book was relegated to the bottom shelf.
Funny Bones by Janet & Allan Ahlberg
A deliciously creepy beginning that quickly turns into a lot of fun and silliness.
The Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy
Lions and dragons lurking in the meadow behind your house are scary enough, but Mahy messes around with what is true and what is not, in a way that leaves most children scratching their heads.
Alexander and the Dragon by Katherine Holabird
Alexander is scared of the dark and the shadows under his bed at night.
Despite it’s scary beginning, this book turns out to be a lovely story about facing your fears, empathy and kindness.
But the one that scared me the most when I was young was
Rumplestiltskin by Tadasu Izawa and Shigemi Hijikata.
This version with its doll-like characters totally creeped me out. Their vacant faces and Rumplestiltskin’s cunning plan to take the baby horrified me (don’t get me started on the impossible task of spinning straw into gold just to get a husband task)!
As for the older readers:
by Neil Gaiman wins hands down every time (maybe its the doll thing again – those button eyes!)
What scary books did you like to read when you were a child?