One of my fondest memories of being a child is hanging out with my friends in someone’s garage, eating junk food and reading aloud from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Author Alvin Schwartz drew on folklore and urban legend to create the most terrifying collection of tales that was somehow also targeted at kids. Listening to these stories was a rite of passage. We would scream and laugh and almost pee our pants. Mostly because it featured illustrations that looked like this:
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Harper Collins is rereleasing Scary Stories…but without the original illustrations by Stephen Gammell. The new books will feature new drawings by Brett Helquist (widely known for illustrating the Series of Unfortunate Events books) that look like this:
Everyone I know who grew up with Scary Stories-related nightmares is upset, and justifiably so. This series (and Gammell’s illustrations) belongs to us. It is sacred. As Buzzfeed put it, they’re ruining Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
This redesign is just symptomatic of the current trend of “updating” classic books to attract today’s young readers. I was heartbroken to learn that The Babysitters Club series (which I adored as a kid) was given a modern update. In the reissued books, ’80s lingo like “cassette player” is now “headphones” and a “perm” is now “an expensive hairstyle.” To borrow another expression from the decades past: gag me with a spoon. (A friend also noticed an “update” to Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret: the “belted sanitary napkins” the main character contends with are now referred to as “adhesive sanitary pads.”)
Kids are often smarter than we give them credit for. Growing up, I read books that were set in a different time than the one I was living in. I would occasionally come across words for things that I was unfamiliar with, and I would usually deal with the situation by asking my parents or looking it up. Best of all, I learned something new about a different time in history.
Also, is it possible that kids are also braver than we give them credit for? I read all three books in the Scary Stories series. I was obsessed with them. The illustrations scared the pants off me. And it was fun.
Obviously, every child is different. There are some that, no doubt, would find Gammell’s illustrations way too scary. But I’m convinced there are still others who would love them, and perhaps even develop a love of reading because of them?
Either way, I wish publishers would stop wrecking my favourite books. They were good enough for me. Why aren’t they good enough for today’s kids?
Images via Adventures in Poor Taste.