By GLENN TOLLE
The ghost of a long dead baseball player takes two kids for a hike, two brothers awaken a slumbering mummy in their attic, and a strange boy that no one’s seen before, dares kids to face their fears… or else. These three terror tales make up SCARY STORIES TO DRIVE YOU BATTY, a slim 46-page book written by prolific children’s author Devra Newberger Speregen (who also penned one of the installments in the chilling children’s series EEK! STORIES TO MAKE YOU SHRIEK) and published by Watermill Press in 1995.
The stories in this small book are not overly original in concept, but are novel in delivery and serve as a good beginner course in three of the biggest tropes found in children’s horror fiction. The first, like many tropes in horror and other genres, originates from folklore and is famously referred to as the “The Vanishing Hitchhiker”. In it, a person or persons happen upon a child or woman standing in the rain, usually next to a cemetery. They stop and offer them a ride home in their dry mode of transportation, usually a car, and give them an article of clothing, such as a sweater or a jacket. After they are taken to their given address, the person driving will remember the article of clothing. Upon returning to the address, however, they learn that the hitchhiker is is a permanent resident at the cemetery, having long since died. And there, on the person’s grave, they find the article of clothing.
If this all sounds at familiar, it should. The story is found IN A DARK, DARK ROOM AND OTHER SCARY STORIES written by a Titan of children’s horror fiction, Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Dirk Zimmer. Speregen’s SCARY STORIES TO DRIVE YOU BATTY, like Schwartz’s IN A DARK, DARK ROOM, introduces this trope, but instead of playing exactly to script, she makes it her own. In her version, two kids at a baseball summer camp take a short cut through the abandoned, and supposedly haunted Joe Duffy Field, only to find themselves trapped by a downpour. They take shelter in the supply shed, but get locked in and are rescued by a man in a yellow slicker wearing a camp jersey. He tells them his name is Joey D. and that he’ll take them back to camp. They follow but lose him in the woods on the hike back. The kids eventually realize that the man who helped them was in fact the dead baseball player of camp legend!
This is a perfect example of taking elements of a common piece of folklore/trope and making it your own. The other two tales in SCARY STORIES TO DRIVE YOU BATTY are equally imaginative in this aspect. SCARY STORIES TO DRIVE YOU BATTY is a great addition to your children’s fright fiction library and a perfect introduction to three staple tropes found in children horror fiction.