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The R.L. Stine Interview, Part 2: The Value of Series Fiction

 

On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Goosebumps, R.L. Stine and I continue our conversation (here’s the beginning, in case you missed it). That means, in part, that I continue to try to goad the author into saying something provocative, and he remains a good sport and consummate professional.

***

Looking at Goosebumps as a series, then, I want to drag in what Victor Watson said in his book Reading Series Fiction—that the experience for children when they’re reading each book in a series is like “entering a room full of friends.”

Yes, I think that’s true. And I think that’s true for all of us when we read series.

For sure…

I’m a big P.G. Wodehouse fan—that’s bad for my horror image.

[laughs]

And he wrote 93 novels. I think I’ve read most of them… just because you want to enter into that world. It’s such a wonderful world.

And it’s familiar to you.

Right, and you know the characters. Yeah, that’s true.

The reason I’m bringing it up is that if you think about the learning and literacy environment for kids, apart from the library, there’s no real effort to have them read series fiction. That’s partly because of how curricula are set up: you’ll read maybe one Sherlock Holmes story for English but not a bunch of them…

They might read one Goosebumps book. I’m amazed by how much Goosebumps is used in the classroom these days. I’m always very startled. I would think of it as free reading, but when I visit these schools, I find that they use it in the classroom. It’s real motivation, and especially for kids who are under-motivated to read.

So it’s being used more and more in schools. I did a funny series for Harper a few years ago called “Rotten School”…

Yep.

And it was just about a rotten boarding school, and all these really rotten kids. You wouldn’t believe how many classrooms used this. I think that reading teachers and librarians are just so eager to find something that motivates [kids] to read.

What are some specific things that have impressed you about how your books are being used in an educational context?

They have [students] write stories. Some school in Maine I went to a long time ago for Goosebumps—they were acting out a play based on one of the books. It was amazing.

Beautiful. Going from one medium to another.

Right! Kids now can do anything. They make videos—they’re doing their own movies with their phones. I get a lot of requests and emails from kids asking, “Is it okay if I do a movie of Night of the Living Dummy?” “Is it okay if I do a film of this book and that book?”

[laughing] How do you respond?

Well, yeah, I tell them, “Sure, go ahead.”

“As long I don’t see it playing at the multiplex down the street next month…”

[laughs] Right

But let’s return to series fiction for a moment, and my perceived prejudice against using it in schools—maybe that doesn’t exist so much anymore.

I don’t think it does.

Or maybe it’s still there to some degree in parents? Because once they know that their kids are avid readers, they might say something to me like, “I love all the reading but my son is now reading Prisoner of Azkaban for the fifth time.” I say don’t worry because when kids are reading the nineteenth book in a series or the same book for the fifth time, they’re not reading it like they did first time, or with the first book.

Well, that’s true. I always say, “Just let kids read.” My son is such an example because his whole childhood he read nothing but Garfield comics. That’s all.

[guffaws]

He never read one of my books…

Uh-huh. [laughing]

—just to make me nuts. He read only Garfield comics, that was it—he had all the collections.

He was never hiding one of your books inside a Garfield?

No, no, that’s what a nice person thinks… But no, no. Just Garfield. But then he went off to college, and he was an English major. Go figure! [laughs]

Interesting.

He read all of Garfield, and he went right to Ulysses. He did fine. So I always tell parents this: if kids are reading, then they’re reading, and they’ll go on.

***

Thanks for reading Part 2—in Part 3 we talk horror… Be warned.

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Comments

  1. I’m really enjoying this interview! I missed the Goosebumps books by a few years, but I read a ton of Stine’s work a few years earlier when he was writing as “Jovial Bob Stine.”

  2. Love this interview! I wasn’t a Goosebumps reader, but so many of the students I’ve taught through the years have been. Series fiction is so important to kids (the #titletalk this past month went into this very topic). It’s like going home again – you can get different things out of books when you already know the characters, setting – or even the writer’s style.

  3. This is great; I am looking forward to part 3.