Half-Minute Horrors edited by Susan Rich
HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.
Featuring a who’s who of authors and artists (Margaret Atwood, Avi, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Lethem, Lauren Myracle, James Patterson, Brian Selznick and many more), this collection of more than 70 chilling snippets is ideal for campfires and car trips. The stories — some a couple sentences, some a few pages — range from darkly humorous (Jerry Spinelli’s murderous twist on the age-old ‘chicken or egg’ question) to outright creepy (Josh Greenhut and Brett Helquist’s illustrated story about terrifying revelations from a Ouija board). These are inherently quick reads, but with enough plot and detail to encourage further imagining. Ages 10 — up. ~Publisher’s Weekly
The family decided to begin reading a handful of Half-Minute Horrors at a time.
“How scary can thirty seconds be…” in the earlier hours of the day over brunch? Yes, we have planned to do some of the reading in a more ambient setting. Just the same, plenty of the stories are still scary in full daylight. The ones we could understand, that is.
This is not our first go around with the Susan Rich edited Half-Minute Horrors. [The daughter is familiar with all the stories, and can still dread them.] I still enjoy the challenge made: of having to come up with a short short that scare. Every sentence has to be spared even more the superfluous and any potential distraction. Every image must be artfully placed and paced. The minute detail that feeds the horror can creep (whether consciously or subconsciously) but it must be noticed for full effect to be achieved.
The daughter has responded to the stories to good effect, with the exception of a few. One in particular failed because a quiet and key detail was unavailable to N. Erin Hunter’s The Babysitter. “She looked down. Something was brushing her leg. It was the phone cord. It had fallen out of the wall” (8). I appreciate that Hunter went ahead a labeled the cord; that it belonged to a phone. And the specificity should cue the reader that if “It had fallen out of the wall” then the phone perhaps should not have been ringing, and it certainly should not ring again (which, of course, it does). N is a fairly clever reader and still the image failed her, despite the clarified detail. We had to re-word it. A red light catches in the corner of her eye. No. The absence of bars catches in the corner of her eye. No signal. Or. The screen is dark. No amount of pounding on the keys resurrects familiar images. The phone is dead. We haven’t owned a phone attached to a cord since she was a toddler (if then). I can’t think of a film/show she would have seen where an image could be referenced. She has no image to recall. It is the daughter at age 8 reading an abridged copy of Robinson Crusoe aloud from the back seat of the car. Reading about the cannibals tearing the young man apart while they cavorted about the fire. She hasn’t an image to recall, one that would make that image register in the way it was meant. (no, we did not re-word the concept.)
N can intellectualize the idea… And perhaps the next reading of the story will find success. That isn’t to say that reviewing the details after can’t still produce a chill. The Legend of Alexandra & Rose by Jon Klassen (15). This is one of my favorites.
Please recall that N is an only child. Not everything registered, but she did get it after a few minutes. And we snickered over the idea that this particular story could especially linger for those young readers with siblings.
We had the most delicious conversation over brunch (where none of the contents were cut up and dispersed about the plate). We talked about the effectiveness of having a particular audience in mind when telling a scary story, how that would affect what ingredients with which you would use to scare them.
Half-Minute Horrors is family fare; at least, certainly not to be left only to children. While the daughter may have missed the phone cord detail, I didn’t. And I had plenty of imagery through which to sort. We look forward to reading more, aloud, and maybe by candlelight just before bed (on not a school night)…