holiday, middle grade

Middle Grade Must-Read: The Doll That Waved Goodbye and Other Scary Stories

Michael Dahl’s Really Scary Stories: The Doll That Waved Goodbye and Other Scary Stories (Stone Arch Books)
Written by Michael Dahl
Illustrated by Xavier Bonnet

For ages: 7-10
Children love horror. That’s just a fact. But, do children often get exposed to age-inappropriate horror? Sadly, yes. But that doesn’t mean we should allow them to have access to scary stories. This recent article from National Geographic discusses how the genre is really good for kids. In my teaching experience, I have included horror and scary stories in some of my read-alouds based on what my students wanted. I would also introduce the scary book, explain what it was, and state that if one person didn’t feel comfortable with me reading it, we would put it away and read another equally fun book. Sometimes I had students that didn’t want to hear it, so I set the book aside. However, almost every time, those same students would go to the scary book during their independent reading time and ultimately enjoyed the text. 

My personal view is that horror literature allows our children to face scary things with the ability to control if it gets to be too much. If a child is in the room while adults are watching a horror film, they have much less power than if it’s in a book. It’s also vital that we choose age-appropriate horror. Christopher Pike isn’t something that should be used during elementary school read-aloud. Maybe R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps depending on the children? (Though I find Stine’s writing unbearable at times). I highly regard Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, but only the originals with Stephen Gammell’s grotesque illustrations. I first encountered those books as a child listening to them read aloud on cassette tape. I adored them even though they freaked me out.

Michael Dahl’s Really Scary Stories is a contemporary series that I have enjoyed and so have the children I’ve taught. He often includes a mix of scary and silly horror stories, and The Doll That Waved Goodbye is no exception. The stories in this volume are as follows:

  • One Hundred Words – a horror story written in just 100 words
  • Don’t Let The Bedbug Bite – a babysitter notes her charge for the night is freaking out about bedbugs; it turns out he has a very good reason to do so.
  • Pickled – my favorite of the collection. Some kids get lost while biking home and find an old storm cellar that’s been sealed for a long time. Some people have been living down there for a long time.
  • Dead End – another great tale, very surreal. Ren bikes down a cul-de-sac and finds he becomes trapped in an increasingly shrinking street.
  • Meet the Parents – a very silly story about a boy learning he is adopted and meeting his unlikely biological parents
  • The Doll That Waved Goodbye – a strange young girl at a summer camp wears a necklace with a baby doll hand as a charm. Another girl decides she wants to take it.

At the end of every book, Dahl includes brief background information on each story, mainly what inspired him to write it. There’s also a glossary with about a dozen words that may challenge students. As with any scary tales, you want to preview them and decide based on what would be best for your students. Don’t underestimate them, though. Scary stories told with the lights dimmed or off is a fun bonding time. We learn that there are dangerous things in the world but will laugh because of the thrills we enjoy.

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