When he was just 4 years old, the author and illustrator Maurice Sendak caught a glance of a horrifying photo depicting the remains of Charles Lindbergh’s murdered son. A mutated version of the image reappeared decades later in Sendak’s chilling children’s book Outside Over There, in which goblins replace a baby with a changeling made of ice.
Those writing horror for particularly young audiences, such as the actress Evangeline Lilly, mix lighthearted elements into their books to make them palatable to children. But many of the most successful writers in the genre, like Sendak, don’t hold back: Outside Over There was criticized for exposing children to more disturbing themes than they were prepared for, and one of Sendak’s most beloved works, Where the Wild Things Are, depicts the brutal realities of growing up. With grisly honesty, Sendak homed in on an important truth about horror—scary stories empower children to face the terror that lurks in the real world.
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.
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What We’re Reading
Maurice Sendak scared children because he loved them
“His lush visual idiom managed to evoke the strange—and sometimes malign—intensity of real childhood, as fey, unruly protagonists sparred with adversaries (fanged monsters and imperfect parents). All his work demonstrates a strong desire, and uncanny ability, to capture the eerie vividness of youth and its crucibles.”
📚 Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
📚 Bumble-Ardy, by Maurice Sendak
📚 Outside Over There, by Maurice Sendak
The everlasting joy of terrifying children
“Horror is an escape, of course, but it is also a kind of homecoming for a small child—an affirmation that goblins and mayhem aren’t merely relegated to the dark corners of imagination, but that they occupy entire worlds that can be visited and inhabited.”
📚 Goosebumps series, by R. L. Stine
📚 Fear Street series, by R. L. Stine
(KARA GORDON / THE ATLANTIC)
Why I write scary stories for children
“I’m not interested in stories that sear terrifying images or monsters or villains into young minds—enough of those exist in the real world, and plenty of others will grow in children’s imaginations without any help. I am interested in telling stories that help prepare living characters for tearing those monsters down.”
📚 Outlaws of Time series, by N. D. Wilson
(TITAN BOOKS; EVAN AGOSTINI / INVISION / AP; THE ATLANTIC)
The importance of scaring children
“Scaring and disturbing children is essential—but it has to be done right. It’s not about scaring the crap out of them, it’s letting them explore a world that only horror can introduce, and opening up that genre to find out what is truly scary, what is creepy, and even what is downright funny to them about these stories.”
📚 The Squickerwonkers, by Evangeline Lilly
📚 Here Be Monsters!, by Alan Snow
‘Stephen King saved my life’
“In the same way that King’s supernatural creatures speak to the ugly realities of human nature, King’s non-adolescent adolescents may offer a different kind of truth, a deeper one, about what it means to grow up.”
📚 It,by Stephen King
📚 Carrie,by Stephen King
📚 Doctor Sleep,by Stephen King
📚 ’Salem’s Lot,by Stephen King
📚 The Shining,by Stephen King
📚 The Stand,by Stephen King
About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Kate Cray. The book she’s reading next is Middlemarch by George Eliot.
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