Synopsis

This intriguing documentary will explore the history and background of one of the most controversial works of modern children’s literature: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. In the 1980s and 1990s in elementary libraries across the United States these books developed a growing interest from boys and girls who were taken in by the gothic tales, the whimsical tone, and the ghostly illustrations. Now the Scary Stories book series stands as the most challenged children’s book of the last 30 years and a testament to the power of something that is often taken for granted: a good scary story.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a 3-book anthology of folk tales and urban legends by Alvin Schwartz and originally illustrated by Stephen Gammell. The Scary Stories book series were steeped in mythology that has been handed down for many years. The detailed appendices and source materials listed in the books invite us into a fascinating exploration involving some of the foundations of cultural storytelling. Fear, death, the unknown. And it allows us to take a mindful look at the way we entertain children, pass down our heritage, and influence them through the stories we tell.

Along with the tales, the illustrations by Stephen Gammell have had an endearing impact, as well as an interesting history. Influencing artists for years, they have made an indelible impression on so many who grew up thumbing through the pages. The vivid and haunting images can be considered some of the most influential illustrations of modern children’s literature. Delving into their gothic and ancient influences as well as looking at their captivating impact on modern artwork can illuminate the deep impression illustrations can have on the stories we tell our children.

In addition, to tackle the books as a subject inevitably involves the topic of censorship amongst children’s literature. Using arguably the most censored modern example of this practice, this documentary intends to shine a light on the practice and explore the many facets and opinions involved with challenging children’s books in America.

Topics

The Scary Stories book series is unique. Because of this, there is a wealth of topics to explore that can connect these 3 books to a host of broader aspects of our society. Topics covered may include:

  • the history of gothic children’s folklore
  • the publication history and spread of the Scary Stories series and its illustrations
  • artists inspired by the illustrations
  • the role of storytelling for gothic children’s literature
  • the history of illustrations in gothic children’s literature
  • origins of specific tales told in the books
  • censorship of children’s literature
  • the life of Stephen Gammell’s artwork over the years
  • the journey Alvin Schwartz took to find and compile the stories

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