Can I be honest with you? For someone as devoted to stories as I am, I learned to read very, very late. I was in third grade before I learned. In a year, though, I went from illiterate to college level.
The secret? I fell in love with Goosebumps.
It turns out all I needed was a story about a monster librarian to inspire me.
R.L Stine is a monster in the children’s literature field. He’s published over a thousand books so far. So far! Can you imagine the work ethic and dedication it takes to create that many stories? This is not a man who knows what it feels like to be tapped out. This is not a man who lacks inspiration. This is a man who sits down at his desk every day and puts the words on the page.
I loved Goosebumps and Fear Street, his series for older kids. I loved how scary some were, and how silly others were. I loved that the characters felt like kids I might know. And I loved the twist endings. Even if you could usually see them coming from a mile away.
I loved that it never felt like Stine was talking down to me. The stories didn’t pull any punches. Kids died, or got turned into squirrels, or were already dead to start with. There were real consequences to the actions they took or the situations they found themselves in.
A happy ending isn’t always assured. Which I kind of love, because it’s honest. It’s also honest that sometimes bad things happen when you didn’t do anything to cause them. Some of these characters did things to incite the horrors that befell them. They went places they shouldn’t go. They were mean to their friends. They didn’t listen to their parents. All the usual stuff. But some of these kids didn’t do anything wrong.
They went to summer camp.
Their family bought a new house.
They went to the library.
These are innocent things that people do, yet the kids still suffered.
Again, that’s honest. It’s real. Maybe you won’t be attacked by a ghost dog if you move into a new house. But maybe the roof is bad and you didn’t know before. That’s not on you.
Aside from the clear lesson that anything horrible can happen to you at any time, there weren’t a lot of morals in these books.
And I kind of love that they were for entertainment purposes only. I get that we want kids to learn, and learn a lot. Their brains are so mushy at that age, we can just shove a ton of facts in there and they’ll stick. Anything that is just for fun seems like a waste of that precious prime learning time.
But that’s exhausting for kids! And it can be a big reason why kids don’t want to read. Everything is educational, everything takes effort. Nothing can just be fun for fun’s sake.
Fun is something we’re missing out on in our lives. As adults, and as kids. Reading should be fun. Stories should be fun. And sometimes, they can just be fun, without trying to sneak learning or morals in there too. Sometimes we can just have macaroni and cheese, without sneaking broccoli into the recipe.
Here then are the lessons that I learned from R.L Stine.
-Don’t talk down to your audience. They’re probably tougher than you think.
-There is a never-ending well of stories. You have as many books in you as you have the time to write.
-There doesn’t have to be a moral to every story. Even if it’s a story for kids.
-Stories should be fun first, before anything else.
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