These days horror in kidlit is having a moment. From the increase in horror titles being published all the way to the recently added Middle Grade category for the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement in a Novel. As a middle grade horror author I find this all very exciting. Except there are still many people out there, including librarians and teachers, who think that promoting horror to kids is not good for them. They think kids need to be protected from bad things but I disagree. Here are five reasons kids should read horror.
1. Horror Offers Solace
Kids today are living in a scary world – a world with global pandemics and school shootings. There is no way to shield them from that. Instead we should lean into it. Scary books do that by offering something I call Safe Scary. Reading scary books allow kids to navigate their fears in a controlled way. If it’s too much, they close the book. When he was asked why people want to go to the movies and be scared, Wes Craven famously said “You don’t enter the theater and pay your money to be afraid. You enter the theater and pay your money to have the fears that are already in you when you go into a theater dealt with and put into a narrative.” The same is true for stories.
2. Scary Books Have Agency
Agency is a thing that adults take for granted. We’re used to deciding what time we get up and what we will do with our day. What to eat for dinner. But kids don’t have that. By their nature and status they are powerless. Another thing adults forget is that kids have the full range of emotions as adults. They just don’t always have the language for them. Enter scary books. Scary books give kids agency. Whenever you are following a story you are rooting for the hero. And who would you root harder for than the hero in a scary story. You take the hero’s hand and go into the dark with them but come back the other side where the light is. You survive. Scary books teach kids they will survive.
3. Horror Tells the Truth
Let’s be honest, we lie to kids a lot. We tell them the dog went to live on a farm. We make up excuses for why Mom and Dad aren’t talking at the dinner table. We sweep the truth into a corner and hope kids never find it. But horror doesn’t do that. It doesn’t deal in platitudes. It trusts kids to handle it. It puts you front and center in front of a monster and then puts into your hands the sword to vanquish it. Horror believes in kids and trusts them to go along for the ride. It knows they’ll survive the night.
4. Horror Teaches Important Lessons about Fear
One of the first lessons I learned about fear was that it offered no middle ground. You either overcome it or you succumb to it. There is no in between. Storytelling is how we build empathy. It is through stories that we say, hey, I feel this thing, do you feel it too. And someone somewhere does and our web gets a little tighter. A little stronger. When kids read scary books they see themselves reflected. Books are, as is famously said, windows and mirrors. Windows into other worlds and lives and mirrors to our own. Horror stories are a way to make connections. They teach kids that they too can overcome their fear.
5. Horror is Fun
Everything I said before, I meant and I mean this one too. Horror is fun. Getting scared is fun. Horror and comedy are different sides of the same coin. They both require the building and releasing of tension. In comedies you laugh. In horror you scream. But have you ever been to a scary movie with your friend and got so startled by something you started to laugh afterwards? Because horror is fun. And kids deserve to have fun. No one would ever think about taking away a funny book worried about what it will do to a child.
Horror for kids is a necessary and important genre and not one we need to shy away from. Horror teaches kids how to slay pretend monsters so that later in life, when they meet a real one, they’ll know what to do. It is a privilege to write horror for kids. To watch them go shoulders back, head held high, straight into the dark, knowing they’re going to be okay.