Almost anyone I’ve ever asked has fond memories of the classic children’s series Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. Even now as adults, most people I’ve talked to excitedly remember the vivid tales and the terrifying illustrations. Remember those?
Back in October, I wrote a blog post about Scary Stories. In that post, I reminisced about how much I loved those books—how they creeped me out, how I felt compelled to read them despite their scariness. Those books struck the perfect balance between whimsy, horror, and folklore, creating a darkly inviting world.
Sometimes I’d read the story with one hand covering the picture until I had worked up the nerve to look at! Even now, I feel like a little kid reading these, scaring myself silly.
I’ve always thought that these books held a power far strong than nostalgia alone. As this blog demonstrates, I’m fascinated by the way in which Scary Stories resonate with us and teach us about ourselves.
So imagine my utter joy and excitement when I heard that a team of filmmakers is producing a documentary about the history of this series! You read that right! Director and Producer Cody Meirick and his team are currently working to explore everything from the publication history of the Scary Stories, the legacy of the iconic illustrations, the importance the books lend to children’s literature, and efforts by some to restrict access to the books, among other subjects. The team has already begun production on the film, having already conducted a handful of interviews, with plans for many more.
The team has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the project. They’ve also secured partnerships with some Chicago-area non-profit organizations, all of which encourage and promote childhood literary, a cause we can all get behind. A portion of all the proceeds earned from the campaign will go directly towards these programs.
I am beyond stoked for this! I can help fund the exploration of a beloved work’s impact WHILE supporting an extremely worthwhile cause? Sign me up!
And I was beyond stoked when Cody Meirick accepted my request to interview him about the project. You can read the interview below. Don’t forget to check out the crowdfunding campaign!
(The interview was conducted via email)
Stories For Ghosts: What drew you to make a documentary about this subject?
Cody Meirick: I work for Erikson Institute, producing content about childhood development as well as children’s literature. And I have a strong interest in children’s literature in general. So I wanted to do something within that topic area. Doing a documentary on these books series is a result of me seeing that there was a great story to tell and a lot of people who would be interested in hearing the story. Of course I’m a fan of the books. But I also noticed how people on Reddit, Tumblr, and really all over the Internet shared and commented about the books all the time. It’s a huge trip down nostalgia lane for so many people. But more importantly, I began to see the underlying topics that began to take shape as I thought about and researched the books. So it was that merging of a big interested audience and topics that the books touched on that really had not been explored in documentary form.
SGF: The list of topics to cover in the documentary seems ambitious and exciting. Any thoughts on how you will structure the documentary to try and address all these points?
CM: I do, but I don’t want to give too much away. 🙂
SFG: Fair enough! What is the status of the project right now?
CM: We have conducted the first “batch” of interviews and a little extra footage. But the plan was always to then take it to crowdfunding to gain an audience as well as actually fund the majority of the documentary. So the plan is to get it funded this spring, then do the rest of the filming this summer. Both Banned Books Week in September and Halloween in October are good opportunities to possibly both get some final footage but also show early preview showings, whatever we can arrange.
SFG: You mentioned on the blog that your favorite story was “The Big Toe”, because “more than any other story [it] embodies a sense of importance in storytelling in our youth that is often overlooked.” Could you expand on that concept, the overlooked importance of storytelling in youth?
CM: Children love stories. Whether they are watching a superhero movie or playing a video game that leads them down a dark forest. They are naturally drawn to narrative and storytelling. What is often lost in children’s literature is the opportunity to use that interest to encourage literacy. A lot of children aren’t going to open a book unless you really pull them into something they are engaged with. The act of great storytelling is an important way to do that.
SFG: What is your favorite illustration? Why?
CM: Part of me wants to say “The Big Toe”, because it touches on the theme of childhood while also giving a very subtle, unsettling mood to the story. It isn’t “in your face” and is great foreboding for the story. Which I love. But the other part of me wants to say the one with Oh, Susannah, which has nothing to do with the story, but is an amazingly beautiful illustration.
SFG: The themes of Scary Stories are not new or unique. Lots of fairytales address themes of gore and death. Cartoons show characters hurting each other in violent yet comical ways. Why then do you feel that parents were so resistant to these books in particular?
CM: Part of the purpose of this documentary is to explore that. My instinct is to think that at least part of it is merely that they were popular books with the kids, and so it got put in front of parents more than other books. Nowadays it is Harry Potter being banned. There are other children’s books that have wizards and magic. Those aren’t often getting banned. But because the Harry Potter books are so incredibly popular, parents have a clear target for them to voice their displeasure. If kids didn’t love the Scary Stories series so much, check them out of the school library again and again, the books wouldn’t be put in the forefront of parent’s consciousness and they wouldn’t care enough to ban them.
SFG: On the flipside, why do you think kids are so drawn to these books?
CM: That’s what I want to explore! The illustrations were definitely a big part of the attraction of these books. But I also give a lot of credit to the way the author took traditional folktales and consolidated them and conveyed them in a way that really piqued children’s imaginations.
SFG: While perusing the articles covering the censorship of the books, many of the parents who rallied against the books repeated this refrain of aiming for “not censorship but standards.” What are your thoughts on this distinction?
CM: I don’t want to get too far into the topic because I’m still interested in hearing the debate from different sides. A representative from the American Library Association talked about banning versus selection and age-appropriateness. There is a lot of competing terminology and I don’t want to gloss over it by pushing a purely “anti-banning” message, or at least putting forth that message without acknowledging a little bit of complexity to the topic. I wouldn’t read the Scary Stories books to my 4-year-old son. But I don’t want to ban it from the elementary school he is going to go to, where 6th grade or 8th grade kids could really benefit from the books. So it’s a tricky subject, but an interesting one.
SFG: I know the Family Research Council was very opposed to these books in the early 1990s. Will you explore this side of the argument?
CM: I think it will be explored, but I don’t want to promise that I’ll devote a huge amount of time to the back-and-forth of the topic and competing viewpoints. For one thing, I just don’t know what will come from future interviews. And secondly, I don’t expect this to become a Michael Moore documentary, if you know what I mean. I don’t think people expect or want a documentary that ultimately is about a popular children’s book series to be monopolized by school politics in America. I think it will be explored. But there are other things to explore too.
SFG: What do you hope to accomplish with this project?
CM: I want to pay tribute to this book series that was important to a lot of childhoods while also exploring important aspects of children’s literature. The early years are so fundamentally important. What is put in front of our eyes and processed through our minds during those key developmental years goes to shape who we are. Examining what it is that draws us, inspires us, interests us when we are young I think says a lot about the human condition. Looking at just this particular example I think can be both fun for a lot of fans but also enlightening.
SFG: What are your future documentary plans, if any?
CM: I have some ideas, but one big undertaking at a time.
I can’t wait!
For more information, including project updates, don’t forget to check out the film’s blog, Scary Stories: A Documentary. Be sure to contribute to the campaign!