Recommended Reading: Goosebumps

I missed out on R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" series when they were popular in the late-'80s and early-'90s because I was already too old for them by then.  I'm enjoying them vicariously now through my son because, even though they're aimed at middle-schoolers, they have hyped-up dramatic moments and over-the-top subject matter that fits the attention-span of a 3 or 4 year-old, which was when I started reading them to him.  (He's now 5, and we still read them every once in a while.)

I first started picking these up in the discount bins of used bookstores, originally planning to just give them away to Trick-or-Treaters on Halloween.  But then I figured why not give them a try before handing them out?  They turned out to be unexpectedly engrossing.  In fact, for Xmas the next year, I bought my son the first three books in the series.

While Stine's stories have a strong tendency to repeat themselves in every way if you've read enough of them (e.g., subject matter, structure, character types and relationships, etc.), they're fun books and shouldn't be overlooked simply because of their popular appeal.  I found them really fun to read to my then-four year-old for a number of reasons.  For one thing, the chapters are very short, which makes it convenient to have a nearby stopping point if you notice your little one is getting too sleepy to stay up much longer.  Also, the chapters always ended on mini-cliffhangers, often something like, "Then she turned to tell her brother something, and he wasn't there!", which led us to always punctuate each with "Duh-duh-daaa!"  That kept his interest up, much like old radio serials kept the kids coming awake until the end of the episode, then something lingering to bring them back the next night.

I've found that the most fun books to read aloud are those with a lot of dialog or narration that comments on (as opposed to merely describing) the action, and that's all true of most of these.  The cliffhangers are a part of that as well, so they evoke a performance in the reader (again, making this like the text of an old-time radio serial).  In fact, at one point I was recovering from a cold and had a scratchy voice from several days of dry coughs.  I was able to read that week's Goosebumps book with overtones of Vincent Price, which suited it perfectly.

My favorite book in the series so far was
A Shocker on Shock Street, which was set in an amusement park.  That allowed a series of surprises and an unprecidented number of monsters instead of it just being about one who came and went.  The aforementioned "ciffhangers" at the end of every chapter often related to the appearance of said creatures, so it was a much more exciting book than others that often have "filler" conflicts with the school bully or a crazy aunt.  Best of all, there's a crazy twist at the end that you'll never see coming.

Most of the "novels" are around 120 pages, plus there's some padding at the end in the form of "preview chapters" from another Goosebumps book in the series, then some ads for the fun club, etc.  Most books seem to approach about 30 chapters, give or take, meaning a book can be finished in about a week of bedtime reading at the rate we did them, usually ramping up toward the end since there was more action leading to the climax.

I usually only read two to four chapters each night, mixed with some quizzing to make sure he was following the story.  For example, I'd ask him who the characters are (There's always fewer than five, and two of those are the generic siblings that seem to be at the center of every book) or I'll ask him about what happened in the previous chapter(s) that we read the day before. 

Like I said, there is a lot of room for criticism of these books overall, but it's more because of repetition (much like how the X-Files grew to be a parody of itself due to its lack of variety) than the quality per se.  However, I've read a few books by copycat authors attempting to latch onto the series' popularity, and they demonstrated by their individual failures that it really does take a talent to turn out good, readable stories and suspend disbelief.

Here's what all we have so far, and we've read most of them:
Goosebumps 1: Welcome to Dead House*
Goosebumps 2: Stay Out of the Basement*
Goosebumps 3: Monster Blood*
Goosebumps 14: The Werewolf of Fever Swamp
Goosebumps 35: A Shocker on Shock Street*
Goosebumps 38: The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena
Goosebumps 39: How I Got My Shrunken Head
Goosebumps 47: Legend of the Lost Legend
Goosebumps 50: Calling All Creeps*
Tales to Give You Goosebumps 2: More Tales to Give you Goosebumps (10 short stories)*
Additionally, R.L. Stine also wrote a series called Fear Street which was aimed at somewhat older kids.  I tried reading one of these to Stan when he was still a bit too young for it, and it just didn't connect with him.  It was something of a mystery (e.g., which of her friends is leaving the cryptic messages not to go to the party?!).  It was more characters than he could keep track of.
Fear Street: The Surprise Party
Ghosts of Fear Street #25: Halloween Bugs Me


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