Guest Post by Kat Hawthorne
I’m just going to say this: Children’s horror stories are not often about simply scaring kids. In my opinion, spooky books for kids are about teaching kids how awesome they are.
When I tell people (adults, mostly) that I write spooky books for kids, I am often met with the kind of nervous laughter that comes from a person who has just learned that there is a spider in the room but who doesn’t want to admit to a fear of spiders. Makes me feel like one of my villains, which is both cool and sad. And I can see their point. Why would anyone want to scare a child? Is that not morally questionable?
Today, I’d like to tell you why it is not wrong to scare a child through literature. On the contrary, I think it is important that we do so.
The main reason is this: books are safe. They are made of paper. A reader can open or close the book whenever they want. That in itself gives the reader power, and isn’t that the thing about fear? We are frightened about what we cannot control—about that which robs us of our power? So that’s one thing.
The next reason is that inside a book we are given the opportunity to face something that cannot actually hurt us. By experiencing fear, sadness, confusion, betrayal, loss, or anything else through reading, we will be given some tools to face them should they ever crop up in real life. We can explore different possibilities—make good decisions, make bad ones—without it having any of it impact on our lives unless we want it to. How does the main character handle the experience of losing a loved one, for example? What will she do when something is happening that she knows is not right? How will she handle fear?
Confrontation? Disrespect? How will she keep herself safe when she is in danger? And most importantly, which of those tools will benefit me in real life, because at some point we all must face difficult things.
That’s just a fact.
Children’s horror is about exposing kids to worrisome things in a controlled environment. Probably, none of our kids will ever come up against a half-octopus man that wants to trap them in his rickety old boat forever. But, though we may not want to admit to it, there is the possibility that our kids may one day come up against a real man who wants to lure them into his car. By showing kids that they are smart, by teaching them that they have some tools to handle those situations even when they are frightened, they will become strong. That is power, friends. That is a way the child can learn to grow powerful.
Through the medium of spooky children’s literature, it is my goal to show kids that they can handle anything. By exposing them to fear, they will become fearless—or at least better equipped to handle their fear. Let the characters in the novel show us some great ideas and some bad ones. Observe the outcome of their choices.
So that later, when the Boatman comes for them, they will know how to defeat him.
Kat Hawthorne tends to lurk (somewhat menacingly) in the darker corners of the literary world. In addition to a smattering of published poetry, Kat’s short fiction has appeared in such literary magazines as Underneath the Juniper Tree, Thrills Kills and Chaos, Infernal Ink, Dark Edifice, Shadows Express,
Fiction and Verse, and The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society. Her literary novelette, The Oddity, was published by MuseIt Up Publishing on July 11th, 2014. In partnership with Enter Skies Entertainment,
Kat wrote the narrative portion of Fearless Fantasy, an online role-playing game published by tinyBuild Games and hosted by Steam. As well as being a nerd of the highest order, under her “day name” Kat is a graduate of Ryerson University’s copy, substantive, and stylistic editing programs, and has since earned a specialization in editing books intended for young readers. She is an acquisitions, stylistic and copy editor at BookFish Books LLC and runs her own business where she offers her editing services on a freelance basis.
About THE BOATMAN
Isabel Wixon is weird. Not only does she see dead things, but her only friends consist of a talkative ventriloquist’s dummy and the gentlemanly spider that lives in her hair. Real friends? Too hard.
Inventing friends is much easier.
Inventing the Boatman—a terrible monster that lures kids into a strange sleeping sickness and never lets them go—probably wasn’t one of her better ideas though.