There are lots of great not-too-scary horror series out for kids these days, but back in the 1990s one name was synonymous with elementary school fear: Goosebumps.
The thin paperbacks by R.L. Stine were tame and often silly, looking back as an adult, but I remember how browsing the Goosebumps shelf at my local library once felt a little daring, a little transgressive, and, yes, even a little scary when I was a kid.
Perhaps that—in addition to the books being as addictive as potato chips—is why so many people of my generation remember the Goosebumps series so fondly. Of the 62 volumes in the original series, it’s genuinely difficult to pick favorites, and I wouldn’t fault you if your list is very different from mine. That being said, if you haven’t read the series and want to know what the fuss is about, skip the mediocre Jack Black movie adaptation and read some of the titles listed here (in no particular order).
Published back in July 1992, this is the one that started it all. R.L. Stine’s first Goosebumps book is still one of his best, carrying all of the hallmarks of what made the book franchise great for young horror fans. There’s a creepy old house, weird neighbors, a spooky graveyard, and a fast-moving plot that has you hooked from page one.
A spin on the classic three wishes tale, this book has a mysterious old woman who grants wishes to 12-year-old Samantha Byrd after she helps the woman home. Of course, nothing is as it appears. Samantha’s dreams of being a popular star athlete instead of a bullied klutz are dashed as she learns her wishes never come true in the way she expects.
Most rankings of great Goosebumps books ignore Say Cheese and Die!, but I’m not ashamed to say I love it. It’s true that in his best moments R.L. Stine was freaking us out, but I also appreciate the goofy, campy, and cheesy sensibilities of some books in the franchise. This story of four friends and a haunted camera adds some comic relief to the fright fest.
Somewhere in the back of my childhood memories, I can still see Slappy, the dummy on the cover of this Goosebumps classic, leering at me from the library shelf. Those of us who dared crack open the pages discovered a spooky tale of an evil ventriloquist dummy. While another dummy, Mr. Wood, is the antagonist in this book, Slappy returns with a vengeance in Night of the Living Dummy II.
Who doesn’t love a haunted amusement park? A family vacation goes horribly awry when the Morris family gets lost and ends up at a theme park called HorrorLand. Instead of just having a spooky theme, it turns out the rides in this park are actually deadly. While people face their fears of heights or looping rollercoasters at amusement parks every day, in the case of HorrorLand, nobody can leave alive.
This is one of the later volumes in the original Goosebumps series, at number 55 in the lineup. It’s also one that gets amusingly meta for R.L. Stine. Zackie Beauchamp is an aspiring horror writer who pens a story about a giant blob monster attacking him and his friend, Alex. Later, while exploring an abandoned shopping center, Zackie finds a typewriter he can use to type his stories. Once home, he discovered the typewriter has a blue glow, and what he writes becomes horrifyingly real.
7) Bad Hare Day
When amateur magician Tim Swanson gets free tickets to a magic show at a local nightclub, he’s dying to go, but his parents can’t be convinced. Instead, he sneaks out and is lucky to be chosen as great Amaz-O’s assistant for a trick. When the magician is rude after the show, Tim decides to steal his case of tricks—and later accidentally turns his sister into a rabbit. This is another one of Goosebumps’ fun and silly premises, but look out for that twist ending.
Most people familiar with Goosebumps have read this fan-favorite title. Carly Beth Caldwell is an 11-year-old girl who is afraid of, well, pretty much everything. Bullies at school and even her little brother take advantage of her jumpy nature. So she decides to exact revenge on her tormentors by ditching the funny duck costume her mom made her for Halloween and finding something more sinister. Little does she realize that the creepy mask she finds at the back of a costume shop will become her worst nightmare.
A lot of Goosebumps tales happen in and around your average American neighborhood. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, however, takes us to Egypt where Gabe and his parents are traveling over their winter holiday. The adults have a business emergency, so Gabe ends up staying with his archaeologist uncle and snooty cousin, Sari. Uncle Ben and his team have just cracked into a secret burial chamber in one of the great pyramids, and he elects to bring the preteens with him to work. Bad idea, Uncle Ben. When you disturb the rest of an ancient mummy, you have to deal with the curse.