Tales for the Midnight Hour by JB Stamper
originally published 1977
Scholastic, 10th printing, 1986
Genre: YA, juvenalia, horror, scary stories
Synopsis & Review: Tales for the Midnight Hour is a classic collection of seventeen “stories of horror” for juveniles. It includes reworked classics like “The Velvet Ribbon” and classic folklore motifs such as a villain recognized by injury sustained during a crime (“The Ten Claws”) or animal vengeance (“The Gooney Birds”), as well as various unfamiliar weird tales. All the stories are very short, with none longer than ten pages, and simple. The simplicity is at times problematic, as some readers will be endlessly curious about the background or resolution. The endings tend to rely on a simple shock or twist.
While it isn’t as well-written, researched, or annotated–not to mention illustrated–as the seminal Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, it is instantly recognizable to many readers from the late Seventies till now, even after two decades in some cases. (I showed Eli the cover, and even though he hadn’t read it, he immediately recognized it.) Personally, I remember it sweeping my elementary school classrooms; it was at book fairs, in our monthly book orders, and only of the hot library checkouts. (None of the sequels were nearly as popular, though.)
Though they aren’t particularly literary, most of the stories are genuinely creepy or disturbing, and are filled with details and motifs that make them extremely memorable. I couldn’t recall the title (I was convinced it was called something like Thirteen Past Midnight), and managed to find it (on my beloved WorldCat!) by looking for references to “The Furry Collar” and “The Gooney Birds,” both of which freaked me out. And that’s what these stories are good for, freaking kids out and getting even reluctant readers interested. The stories are excellent for reading aloud or retelling, in a storybook circle, at a slumber party, or around the campfire. Good for younger kids interested in scary stories, or even intermediate schoolers who aren’t especially interested in reading.
Cover: Skeleton hand holding an old-fashioned pocket watch as it strikes the midnight hour, poised before an open window with curtains blowing as lightning strikes over a darkened sky. Titles in bright red dripping letters. Ultra-spooky!
It was on the top shelf of an old bookcase, covered with dust and barely visible. Lisa decided she had to find out what it was. Of all the things int he old junk shop, it aroused her curiosity the most. She had looked through old books, prints, and postcards for hours. Nothing had caught her interest. Now the old box, high and out of reach, intrigued her.