Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Review - In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories

In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories
by Alvin Schwartz
illustrated by Victor Rivas
Date: 1984
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: short stories
Pages: 64
Format: e-book
Source: library

In a dark, dark room, in a soft, soft voice, tell a scary story!

Newly reillustrated, this classic I Can Read full of spooky stories is perfect for beginning readers who love a bit of a scare.

Victor Rivas's silly and spooky art will introduce a new generation to stories inspired by traditional folktales like "The Teeth," "In the Graveyard," "The Green Ribbon," "In A Dark, Dark Room," "The Night It Rained," "The Pirate," and "The Ghost of John."

The original edition has won many state awards and is an ALA Notable Children's Book.

In a Dark, Dark Room is a Level Two I Can Read book, geared for kids who read on their own but still need a little help.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a short collection of very short stories aimed at beginning readers. Though most are based on older folktales, I felt the stories were kind of watered down, to the point that they'll probably only be entertaining to the age group they're aimed at. Kids might get a sense of accomplishment from reading these little morsels of fright, but older readers are likely to be left unsatisfied.

That said, the illustrations are great. The edition I read features new illustrations from 2017, which breathe some new life into this 1984 collection.

Here are my thoughts on the individual stories:

"The Teeth" - Creepy more than scary--and without much of a plot--this is basically just the story of a boy who encounters a series of men with progressively larger teeth. The fright factor is highly dependent on the illustrations.

"In the Graveyard" - I can't quite tell if this one features fat-shaming or not (but if I'm questioning it, it could probably be construed that way). An overweight woman sitting in a graveyard meets some corpses. She asks them if she will be like them when she is dead. They say yes. The illustrations show a vision of her future self as a skinny corpse that looks awfully happy. Make of that what you will.

"The Green Ribbon" - I think I've seen a version of this story somewhere before. It's probably the most comical and macabre of the bunch. It concerns a young girl named Jenny who wears a green ribbon around her neck. She won't tell anyone what it's for until the day she's on her deathbed... when everyone finds out in a startling way. (The illustrations make the girl look disconcertingly like Anne Shirley... so the finale becomes even more disturbing!)

"In a Dark, Dark Room" - The title of this story is probably the spookiest part of it. It relies on word repetition to build up suspense. Unfortunately, the payoff is kind of... meh. This is another story in this collection that relies heavily on the illustrations; the ending is next to worthless without them.

"The Night it Rained" - If you're over the age of ten, you'll probably have encountered a variation on this story. A man sees a little boy standing next to a cemetery. It's raining, so he offers the kid a lift and the use of his sweater, with a promise to return the next day to pick up said garment. For kids who haven't read something like this or seen the twist, it will probably be more engaging.

"The Pirate" - Here's yet another story that looks like it stars Anne Shirley (this time with bosom friend, Diana Barry). Diana Ruth is spending her vacation with her cousin Anne Susan. Susan tells Ruth about how the guestroom is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a pirate. So Ruth checks the room thoroughly before going to bed, only to hear a big voice! The illustrations are essential to this story, too; readers won't fully appreciate the final climactic scene without them.

"The Ghost of John" - This is apparently a poem written by an 8-year-old girl (who would now be 48, according to the note at the end). It's surprisingly good, considering the age of the poet; I've read rhyming poems by adults that are a lot worse.

I might recommend this to young children who are starting to read on their own. The actual writing is pretty decent, and the illustrations are deliciously creepy (while still maintaining a sense of humour). For older readers who want a story collection that's actually satisfying on a plot level, though, I'd suggest looking elsewhere.

Overall: 2.64 out of 5

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