R. L. Stine was a man ahead of his time. In the early ‘90s, he started a children’s horror series that would go on to sell over 400 billion copies worldwide. His success was largely due to an impressive ability to connect with children: the cover art alone was like visual candy (credit Tim Jacobus). The first chapter reeled us in with something relatable (sibling rivalry). And the next thing we knew, we were under the covers, frantically hoping Carly Beth could escape the Halloween mask before it was stuck on her forever (The Haunted Mask, 1993).
There was one other aspect of Stine’s formula that was critical to his success: the titles. By his own admission, this was the first thing he’d come up with before starting a new book. And while most of them seem pretty silly, a strange pattern reveals itself once you review them as a whole. Stine wasn’t just writing horror for kids. He was writing about the horror of being a kid. In fact, most of his titles perfectly summarize the single most terrifying thing his readers were going through at that time: puberty.
Say Cheese and Die
The real horror: mom photos! She is going to photograph every important event of your life, including (and especially) prom.
The Werewolf of Fever Swamp
The real horror: your body is changing. "Wait, I have hair growing where now?!"
The real horror: the older you get, the worse the consequences. It used to be that you only got timeout. But now you’re slowly losing privileges. And your father just shouted your name from across the house. Your entire name. That only happens when you’ve really, really screwed something up.
Bad Hare Day
The real horror: all the product in the world won’t fix that discount haircut your parents made you get. Guess that’s why they invented hats.
The real horror: your first kiss. Who makes the first move? Do you make the first move? Do they make the first move? What if they don’t want you to? What if they do want you to, but you chicken out? Wait, how do you even kiss in the first place? Do you sort of mash your face against theirs?! HOW MUCH TONGUE IS TOO MUCH TONGUE?
I Live in Your Basement
The real horror: your parents need to start knocking before they come into your room. Period.
Elevator to Nowhere
The real horror: nothing ever seems to go your way. #thestruggleisreal
Into the Jaws of Doom
The real horror: visiting your crazy relatives. They were fun when you were younger…but now you’re older and realizing how strange they truly are.
Calling All Creeps!
The real horror: siblings. Are. The. WORST.
How I Got My Shrunken Head
The real horror: oh, cool! Another pimple. Super. Seriously. Billy’s pool party is tomorrow, so of course this would happen now. That’s just GREAT! THAT’S JUST SERIOUSLY FRICKIN’ GREAT!!!