Should we read the sad and the scary to our children?

Growing bookworks 2

When I was a young girl, I loved to read and so I did. I read and I read, until there were no children’s books left in the children’s section of the library for me to read. South Africa during the 1980’s was a conservative place to live, so the librarians did not allow children to go into the adult section of the library, never mind take out books for it.

Fortunately for me, my mom was a big reader herself. Her taste ran to classic literature, horror / supernatural books and the odd sexy book too. The temptation of her collection was to great for me and I resorted to reading her books behind the couch in the lounge. By the end of my tenth year I had read, possibly without full understanding but with enough for me to enjoy the stories, The Shining, The Stand and Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz, Lace by Shirley Conran and the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. By the time I was thirteen, I had added all of my mom’s Charles Dicken’s books and her collection of books by Winston Churchill to my list. I read these ones with a dictionary and looked up words I didn’t know, some of which I have never forgotten.

When I had my own children, I didn’t want them to have to lie about the books they read. My motto was “If they can read it, I will let them read it,” I do not believe in sheltering children from life, death and everything in between, within reason. I do not have the same view about visual products like television or video games. The reason I see these differently is that I believe a child can only visualise the things he/she reads to the extent of their personal experience. A visual depiction puts the picture into the child’s mind and that content will be outside of their experience and could be very frightening.

Greg quickly evolved into a big reader and I had trouble feeding his book appetite. He read all the books I read as a child, including the sad and unusual ones like I am David by Anne Holm, Struwwelpeter by HeinrichHoffmann and Fattipuffs and Thinifers  by Andre Maurois. Some books I offered to him, but he didn’t fancy their themes such as The Diary of Anne Frank and Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders. I had read both of these when I was twelve, but Greg has never read them and probably never will.

Other moms from his school were shocked that I didn’t restrict his reading, but my son had the freedom to choose while their children did not. Some of their sons read books behind their mothers back so they could not discuss their content with their children and demystify it. Greg has grown into a balanced and intelligent young man with strong views on personal freedom. He always support the human rights of the “underdog” and I think he will turn out okay.

These are my thoughts, but what do other people think about this. I did some research on the internet and this is what I found:

  • Children need to know that all circumstances in life can’t have a happy ending. Sometimes people and animals we love die and our sense of loss is profound;
  • Many sad and scary stories for children come from folklore. Folk stories are good for children as they gain cultural awareness and learn about life among different peoples of the world;
  • Know your audience, if your child is highly sensitive or prone to nightmares, or simply doesn’t want to read the book [like my son, Greg], don’t force them. Respect their views;
  • We live in a scary world and our children need to be prepared and also learn how to deal with emotions like fear, anger, frustration and jealousy. Scary and sad books help them learn how other people deal with these emotions;
  • Scary stories can get children interested in, and exhilarated by, reading; and
  • There are life lessons to be learned in scary and sad books such as don’t take sweets from strangers.

As October is Halloween month and I love scary books of all kinds, I read a review a few to include in this post.

The Haunting of Hiram by Eva Ibbotson – Goodreads review

The Great Ghost Rescue by Eva Ibbotson – Goodreads review

The Witchlet by Victoria Zigler – Goodreads review

Dragon Kingdom & the Wishing Stone by StacieEirich – Goodreads review

About Robbie Cheadle

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Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.

I have recently branched into adult and young adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first supernatural book published in that name, Through the Nethergate, is now available.

I have two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. I also have three short stories in Death Among Us, a collection of short murder mystery stories by 10 different authors and edited by Stephen Bentley. These short stories are all published under Robbie Cheadle.

I have recently published a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.

Find Robbie Cheadle

Blog: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/

Blog: robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com

Goodreads: Robbie Cheadle – Goodreads

Twitter: BakeandWrite

Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram

Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books

***Just a note here, since Robbie is so modest. She has five stories of dark fiction coming out in anthologies this month. “The Siren Witch”, “A Death Without Honour”, and “The Path to Atonement” will appear in Dan Alatorre’s Nightmareland  horror anthology, and “Missed Signs” and “The Last of the Lavender” will be featured in the WordCrafter paranormal anthology, Whispers in the Dark.



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42 Comments on “Should we read the sad and the scary to our children?”

  1. Thank you, Kaye, for hosting me for this post. I think this is an important topic and am delighted to have the encouragement to write it because of this group and a wonderful platform to share it.

  2. My mother read Struwwelpeter to me when I was 4. I loved it then, and it still makes me laugh. I write scary stories for kids, but I always temper them with a touch of humour.
    All power to you, reading The Stand at 10! A great book, but not an easy read.

    • Thank you, Annabelle. I can remember being annoyed when King swapped from one character to another in The Stand. My favourites were Fran and Stuart. When I re-read this book recently, they were still my favourites. Humour is a great tool to tone down a scary mood.

  3. I agree in giving children many diverse and challenging reading opportunities taking in their age/sensitivity. Good one Robbie. 🙂

  4. I tend to agree with you, Robbie. And I think your comment about the difference between strong visuals and scary books is correct. Great subject for debate.

  5. Reblogged this on Robbie's inspiration and commented:

    Should we read sad and/or scary books to our children? I am over at Writing to be Read discussing this interesting question.

  6. Not ever being a mom, but having been a child, I always appreciated our school libraries because they offered us a variety of things to read. What I grew to enjoy more, I could find more of. What I didn’t care to read, I didn’t have to read any more.

  7. Sue Vincent says:

    I too had the freedom of the bookshelves…as did my sons. The books were always opening areas of discussion, both between me and my mother and me and my own sons, things they might not have considered without the stories. A child will, as you say, understand within the limits of experience, imagination and intuition and the questions the freedom to read can raise allow them to expand all three.

  8. memadtwo says:

    I remember my older brother getting permission to take books out of the adult section in the local library. I agree with you. Lack of knowledge and empathy are big problems right now. Books allow children to think about subtleties in a way that screens do not. (K)

  9. When our children were small we read many stories that had sad and scary parts. The idea is to pause and discuss these segments so the child understands the emotion or reason behind their inclusion in the story. I so agree with you allowing your kids to read that which interests them. I remember being in the fourth grade and turned in a book report on a book named The Raft. It was a survival story about three navy men out at sea on a raft built for one. The teacher sent a note home to the effect that the book was way above my grade level and my parents should provide some guidance as to what I was allowed to read. There was also an inference that the report was not done by me and that perhaps the book was not really read by me. My mom was incensed and made her thoughts clear to the teacher and school principal. Needless to say, the teacher never made another comment on the book reports I turned in. One of which was the Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

    • This is an interesting story, John. I had an experience with a teacher recently where I thought she believed that my son had not done his own work. It wasn’t a book review but an excel pricing exercise. I was upset because I had spent hours showing him what to do and coaching him so he could do it on his own. I suppose teachers are just doing their best and want a good outcome for the child. Greg’s school has always been good about what he reads. He read Lord of the Rings when he was 11 and their wasn’t a peep out of his teacher. Thanks for joining in the conversation.

  10. I’m with you on this, Robbie. With my son, confining him to what the school recommended made him hate reading. As soon as I opened that up, he found out he loved it–luckily before he was too old. The only caveat I have is that the child is old enough to understand the message. Fairly subjective but there you have it.

    • That is a good caveat. Greg makes his own decisions and won’t read books he thinks he can’t handle emotionally (he is OCD).

    • Hi Jacqui. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I can remember in seventh or eighth grade my language arts teacher gave us two different lists of books and we had to get parental permission to read books off the second list. None of the books on the first list appealed to me, and I got my mom’s permission to read from the second list. I read “Bless the Beasts and the Children” and it was like a right of passage for me, changing the way I saw the world. I think it only makes sense to gauge a young person’s reading materials to match their taste, reading level, and maturity. Asking a child to read a book that does not interest him is like asking him to read a school text from cover to cover. When reading materials do not capture our attention and keep us interested it becomes a struggle, even for a higher level reader. For someone just developing literary habits, I think it becomes even more imperative to offer a wide variety of reading choices to allow them to discover and develop their own personal tastes, and create a love for literature.

  11. Well done! 🙂 Sharing…

  12. Excellent post, Robbie. I agree that reading is wonderful for kids, and anything that we can do to encourage it is worthwhile. My daughter never had restrictions on her reading, though I didn’t have particularly offensive books at home. Sad, scary, yes. She liked horror more than I did, so had to rely on the library for that. At 36, she’s still an avid reader and a nice person despite Stephen King. Lol. Learning about life, feeling moved by characters, and broadening opens perspective is a good thing. 🙂

  13. I’m a realist and don’t believe in mollycoddling children too much. If they want to read a certain book and enjoy it, then that’s fine with me. I let my sons read newspapers from an early age, and we answered any questions they asked truthfully. One day we were eating dinner at a relative’s house and my youngest son piped up with the question “What’s a prostitute?”. He’d read it in the newspaper and wanted to know. I said I’d tell him later, and I did!

    • I agree with you, Stevie. I never sheltered my boys either. It wouldn’t have helped if I had tried anyway as they find everything out at school at a very early age. My boys knew things at 9 years old that I only knew at about 15.

      • Very true. My mother never sheltered me, or did her mother. Aged about 8 in 1932, my mother was taken to see the body of a neighbour’s young daughter who had died. Mum always remembered the girl was laid out in the front room in her best party dress. I’m not sure I would have inflicted that on my sons, but we never shielded them too much from life.

  14. Teri Polen says:

    I agree with you, Robbie. My parents never restricted my reading – don’t think it ever occured to them, and I never restricted my sons. Unfortunately, one never became a big reader unless it was required, and the other enjoys reading, but has little time for it with school. Maybe after he graduates!

    • Not restricting you certainly worked as you are a big reader, Teri. Greg is in Grade 10 (we have 12) this year and also doesn’t have much time during the school term to read. They get so many tests and projects to do.

  15. olganm says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I read all kinds of things as a child, and your thoughts on imagination ring true to me. Thanks, Robbie, for a very well-thought post.

  16. […] Robbie Cheadle, a mum and author, on whether childen should be allowed to read sad and scary books. […]


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