Some time ago, I wrote an article about horror and ghost stories in children’s literature. Here’s an adapted excerpt, focused on children’s magazines.
In magazines, true horror stories are generally reserved for young adult magazines that may cross over to an adult audience. Magazines for younger children usually keep their stories light.
Sometimes the magazine’s mission means ghost stories aren’t appropriate. For example, religious magazines are less likely to use a story that portrays ghosts or other paranormal creatures as real. Even at Highlights, Managing Editor Judy Burke says, “It’s tough to do a real ‘ghost story’ in a way that works for us and our audience. In the one story that I can recall, a boy who gets lost in a snowstorm feels guided (to do what he needs to do to survive) by the ghost of his father, but in the end, the reader isn’t really sure if it was truly the ghost of his dad or if it was just the boy’s own recall (of what to do in such an emergency) enhanced by how the extreme cold and conditions were affecting him. We probably wouldn’t publish a realistic story in which a ghost is confirmed as existing.”
Burke adds, “Because our audience includes 6-year-olds as well as 12-year-olds, we publish only moderately scary stories that often have a logical explanation at the end. For example, in our October 2006 issue, we published a story called “The Basement Ghost” by Barbara Kanninen, in which two girls hear a noise coming from the basement and one girl becomes convinced that it’s a ghost. After they gather their courage to check it out, they discover that the noise is their sneakers thumping around in the dryer. Many of our successful ‘ghost’ stories are really mystery stories, in which a child figures out what the supposed ghost really is. We find that incorporating humor can work well, too, since humor can give a reader temporary relief from the tension of a scary story.”
This prejudice in magazines seems odd, considering that many younger children love ghost stories. Besides the stereotypical “around the campfire” scary tale, you see many middle grade novels that feature ghosts. Perhaps it’s because magazines have to appeal to such a large audience to be successful, so can’t risk scaring off a portion of their readers, or offending a segment of parents. Maybe parents are also more likely to be involved in reading magazines with or to their children. Is this a reasonable adaptation to market concerns? Yet far more children’s magazines are listed as using folk tales and fairy tales — which may also contain supernatural elements or imaginary creatures — than ghost stories or horror.
Any thoughts on this?
Chris Eboch tackles ghosts in her Haunted middle grade series, which includes The Ghost on the Stairs, The Riverboat Phantom and The Knight in the Shadows.