“Goosebumps,” a screamingly popular children’s book series, is under fire from a Spokane parent who wants the books out of her children’s school.
In a written complaint, Anita O’Brien requested that the junior horror stories be withdrawn from Spokane School District 81 libraries.
But O’Brien said Tuesday she intended to remove them only from Stevens Elementary, where she has a sixth-grader and a third-grader.
“These books have given two of my children nightmares,” she wrote in her complaint. She wants schools to buy literature, not schlock.
A district committee reviewed the books, but Associate Superintendent Cynthia Lambarth has not yet issued a decision.
“Goosebumps” is a publishing phenomenon, but reviewers and librarians would be the first to howl if anybody claimed Manhattan author R.L. Stine pens great literature.
Stine, 52, churns out a new “Goosebumps” title once a month and says he never suffers from writer’s block. The 42nd book in the series, “Egg Monsters from Mars,” appeared this month.
Almost 95 million “Goosebumps” books are in print worldwide. In December, USA Today crowned Stine the top-selling author in America - not just of children’s books but of all books - for the second year in a row.
Mass marketers couldn’t keep their hands off that kind of popularity. A “Goosebumps” TV show debuted last fall. Spinoff clothing and toys weren’t far behind. A competing publisher now sells a parody book series called “Gooflumps” by R.U. Slime.
The downtown Spokane public library owns 80 copies, but good luck finding “Goosebumps” on the shelf.
The library scraped up four copies Tuesday for a newspaper reporter by combing through books just checked in. No sooner were the books back in the children’s section than a boy mysteriously appeared and convinced the reporter to give up two so he could check them out instead.
Fans have no trouble explaining the appeal.
“They’re cool. They’re scary. They’re awesome,” said Grant Hopkins, 10, a fourth-grader at Roosevelt Elementary School.
“I’ve got a stack about this big,” said his friend 9-year-old Aaron Biel.
Stine’s books ring of the playground. Adjectives range from “awesome” to “gross.” Nouns include “dork” and “wimp.” Stine, a former joke-book writer, tells interviewers he listens to his teenage son for inspiration.
While no one dies in the “Goosebumps” books, Stine also writes a gorier series for adolescents called “Fear Street.”
At the public library, librarians try to steer younger readers away from “Fear Street,” but they find “Goosebumps” harmless.
“We don’t try to stop adults from reading Harlequin romances or mystery novels,” said children’s librarian Nancy Ledeboer. “Kids need something relaxing to read, too.”
Stevens Elementary librarian Mary Alice Plesha bought 58 “Goosebumps” books recently because students kept requesting them. “They’re not good literature, but they get children to read,” Plesha said.
O’Brien, a temporary worker and homemaker, would rather kids read them at home.
As it is, her son feels he can’t escape. Everywhere he turns at school, he sees kids reading “Goosebumps,” discussing the plots, wearing “Goosebumps” clothing.
O’Brien objects to the argument that the books attract non-readers to the written word.
“My second child is a reluctant reader, but I’ve not thrown ‘Goosebumps’ at him,” she said. “I scour the library for books I think he would like, books that would be helpful, not hurtful. Just because a child is reading them doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.”
Spokane child psychologist Mary Weathers isn’t familiar with the books, but she said scary children’s stories should show good winning over evil.
“Goosebumps” usually features child narrators who beat the monster in the end, sometimes with one last eery shudder before it’s lights-out.
“Kids dream monsters and things that go bump in the night,” Weathers said. “That’s normal developmental stuff. Bringing it out into the open and writing stories about it, especially where there’s a positive ending, can inspire hopefulness in the kid, the feeling that they can master the scariness.”
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