Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

The Freedom to be Scared!

When doing outreach for grade school children my favorite books to book talk often come from a genre that is frequently challenged: Horror! It’s a delight to discuss scary stories because these conversations reveal how children are their own best selectors and even censors when they are given the ability to choose what they read. 

I learned early on as a first grader that horror books were not my jam. In a moment of bravery/foolishness I gave Night of the Living Dummy by R.L. Stine a whirl. When Slappy the cursed dummy made his appearance it was nope at first sight. The book was hastily closed, then thrown across the room and eventually hidden in the back of a closet. I was not ready to engage with the content of that story so I self-censored (to the extreme). I see the autonomy I exercised as a child play out when I mention horror books during book talks. Some children are enraptured when I mention The Ash House or Hide and Seeker and they gleefully list all of the other scary books they’ve read. Whereas children who find those stories to be out of their comfort zones focus on the new graphic novel series or other genres getting highlighted. 

Children learn so much about themselves when they have the freedom to choose what they read. The horror genre offers young readers a unique opportunity to engage with scary scenarios and situations on their own terms. While I may not have finished Night of the Living Dummy  I learned a lot from that book! I was scared so I stopped reading. Later on, when I felt ready, I returned to the story on my own terms. That’s an empowering lesson.  Arnold Lobel’s ‘Shivers’ illuminates another positive outcome of encountering scary stories. Frog and Toad  “were scared. The teacups shook in their hands. They were having the shivers. It was a good, warm feeling” (42).  Much like Frog and Toad, children might discover that reading scary stories can be an enjoyable, connective experience. When horror books are removed from collections before a child even has a chance to learn about them, so much is lost. So let’s celebrate the freedom to be scared…or not! 

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Today’s blog post was written by Caitlin Tormey, Librarian at the Central Library of the Sacramento Public Library System, on behalf of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee. She can be reached at

This post addresses the core competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group and IV. Knowledge, Curation, & Management of Materials, V. Outreach and Advocacy, and VI. Administrative and Management Skills.

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