Monday, October 25, 2010

What I Learned From Reading Goosebumps

I learned a lot when reading the Goosebumps series. (No, the lesson wasn't How to Mass Market Twilight Zone episodes to tweens.) I learned some legitimately important stuff. Let's take a look.

Monster Blood Series

Synopsis: Evan finds a can labeled Monster Blood, filled with a strange goo that, over the course of several books, causes whoever eats it to grow.

Lessons learned: The secret to publishing groundbreaking children's book isn't finding a new and awesome way of framing menstruation (sorry, Judy!) or writing a story where something really sad happens to a beloved pet. It's making sure you have a Nickelodeon's Gak tie-in.

Say Cheese and Die!

Synopsis: Greg and his friends find a strange new camera. It predicts the future and causes strange, terrible things to happen to whomever it photographs.

Lesson learned: Strunk and White be damned. Exclamation marks let your reader know you mean business. (See also, Let's Get Invisible!, You Can't Scare Me!, It Came From Beneath the Sink!)

Night of the Living Dummy

Synopsis: An evil dummy wreaks havoc on a family. I know what you're thinking, and no, it's not Slappy. It's Mr. Wood. Slappy only reveals himself as sentient at the very end of the book.

Lessons learned: Inevitably, I'll get a phone call late one night Scream-style, asking me my favorite Goosebumps novel. I'll giggle even more girlishly than Drew Barrymore did as I answer, Night of the Living Dummy. When I'm subsequently quizzed on who the evil dummy was...I'll know not to answer Slappy. (Don't I so have FINAL GIRL MATERIAL written all over me?)

The Girl Who Cried Monster

Synopsis: Lucy Dark is enrolled in the library's summer reading program. She finds out that her librarian, Mr. Mortman, has a horrible secret: after closing time, he turns into a monster and eats flies and turtles. Lucy's parents won't believe her because she's always telling stories about seeing monsters. Lucy stays behind in the library to try to prove Mr. Mortman is a monster...until he catches her. Lucy's only way of escaping? Knocking over the card catalog in the hopes that Mortman's need to catalog is greater than his monstrous urges.

Lessons learned: What does Mortman get to do as a monster? Terrorize Japanese cities or use his frightening appearance to supply Monstropolis with electricity? Nope, he eats flies and organizes the card catalog. Even in monster form, fictional librarians can't escape their dorky image.

It Came From Beneath the Sink!

Synopsis: A girl named Kat finds a strange sponge under the sink of her new home. The sponge, which turns out to be an evil mythical creature called a Grool, causes bad luck wherever it goes. Kat and her brother manage to destroy the Grool but at the end find an even worse creature: a vampiric potato known as a Lanx.

Lessons learned: Some Goosebumps books, like Night of the Living Dummy and One Day at Horrorland spawn mini franchises, complete with t-shirts, spin offs, sequels, toys, and more. Others don't. To this day, I'm still anxiously awaiting my cuddly Grool nighttime companion and my potato to Lanx transformer action figure.

Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Synopsis: Billy goes to a summer camp where odd things happen: the counselors are abusive to the kids, campers start disappearing, and there's something creepy in the woods. But as it turns out, Camp Nightmoon was just a training for Billy to see if he was psychologically fit to accompany his parents as they explore a frightening new land: Earth!

Lessons learned: Based on the tagline ("It's the little camp of horrors!"), I deduced that the same lowly editorial assistant who worked on the tired puns of the Babysitters Club's Abby Stevenson was also on R.L. Stine's payroll. It's nice to know where an English degree could get you in the 90s.

The Ghost Next Door

Synopsis: A girl named Hannah meets a new neighbor, Danny. She suspects that he is a ghost, but it turns out he's not the ghost--she is!

Lessons learned: Drawing faces isn't illustrator Tim Jacobus's strong point.

The Haunted Mask series

Synopsis: An easily scared girl, Carly Beth, wants to frighten the boys at school who tease her. In the first book of the Haunted Mask series, she finds a horrifying mask for Halloween. The only problem? The mask won't come off! Eventually, Carly Beth is able to remove it with a symbol of love. She's warned by the shopkeeper that anyone who puts the mask on will never be able to take it off, and in a twist, her brother puts it on in the very last scene. In the Horrorland series, Carly Beth puts the mask on again, but finds yet another symbol of love to remove it.

Lessons learned: If you really want to make an impact on kids, you've gotta follow through on your threats. Yes, this means writing a children's book where a twelve year old girl has a latex mask permanently seared to her skin.

Hope you guys enjoyed this! Look for Part II of what I learned from Goosebumps this Thursday!