by Alexie Basil
Check out these three fun facts you probably didn’t know about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the iconic book of terrifying stories for kids written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Stephen Gammell.
1. Illustrator Stephen Gammell doesn’t do interviews—ever.
Or, as the Post Bulletin puts it, Stephen “lets his art do the talking.” For this reason, if you scour the internet, you’ll find very little personal information about him. As he explains himself, “I don’t give interviews. Not even for my publishers. It’s just my policy.”
Stephen’s illustrations for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark were so evocative that, in later editions of the book, original publisher HarperCollins opted for some slightly gentler images. But fans from the early days who read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in the 1980s and 1990s will remember the self-taught illustrator’s terrifying surrealist interpretation of Alvin Schwartz’s tales.
Stephen doesn’t say much about himself, but his gorgeous and empathetic picture-book illustrations say so much about him. You can see Stephen’s style in action in many of his not-so-scary children’s books—such as The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant.
2. Scary Stories has hit the big screen!
Guillermo del Toro produced a feature film adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which came out in August 2019. It combines several of the scary stories from the book, including various monsters, folktales, and characters.
Giant Thumb Studios produced a documentary called Scary Stories about the creation and impact of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, featuring archival footage of author Alvin Schwartz, as well as interviews with the mega-bestselling author of Goosebumps, R. L. Stine, and folklorist Dr. Gary Alan Fine. The creators describe it as “the story of the most banned book of all time.”
3. The spooky short stories are based on folklore, tall tales, and urban legends.
Author Alvin Schwartz was actually a professional folklorist. During the 1970s, he collected dozens of tales through research and interviews. He claims that all of the stories in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark were based on oral legends he heard!
To get his writing just right, Alvin would read his writing aloud to himself in the bathroom. Why? “Because the acoustics are so good,” he explained.
Do you know any other surprising facts about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Or a memory of reading them as a kid? We’d love to hear from you! Please share with us on social media using the hashtag #ScholasticBookClubs.
Special Note for Teachers: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has been giving horror-story lovers a heart-pounding thrill for decades. Author Alvin Schwartz credits that scariness with “[developing] a lot of interest in reading” among young people—and we couldn’t agree more!
That being said, this book is pretty scary. As your students choose their own books this Halloween, please make sure they know Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a particularly spooky choice.
Alvin Schwartz (1927–1992) was known for a body of work of more than two dozen books of folklore for young readers that explores everything from wordplay and humor to tales and legends of all kinds. His collections of scary stories—Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Scary Stories 3, and two I Can Read books, In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories and Ghosts!—are classics of young people’s literature.
Stephen Gammell is the illustrator of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3, as well as many other books. He won the Caldecott Medal for Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman. He also earned Caldecott Honors for Where the Buffaloes Begin by Olaf Baker and The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs