IF YOU HAVE or know any kids, go to supermarkets, watch cable
TV, surf the Net, go to book stores, shop at malls or buy junk
food, you probably know about R.L. Stine by now.
If you don't, you are probably an alien or dead, in which case
you have a good chance of turning up in one of Stine's books.
Stine is the author of the creepy, obscenely successful
"Goosebumps" and "Fear Street" book series for kids.
Stine's books make Irene Hettich's skin crawl, and not in a
good way. She thinks they should come with this warning:
A STEADY DIET OF GOOSEBUMPS MAY BE HARMFUL TO YOUR CHILD,
RESULTING IN NIGHTMARES AND THE FIRST SIGNS OF ADDICTION TO SHOCK
FICTION. THE MORE ADVANCED "FEAR STREET" SERIES MAY RESULT IN A
WARPED SENSE OF REALITY AND A FAILURE TO READ QUALITY LITERATURE.
When Hettich talks about quality literature for children, she's
not talking through her hat. Hettich, 56, taught fourth through
seventh grades in parochial schools for seven years. She taught
sixth grade for 14 years at Blackhurst Elementary School in St.
Charles. She spent 11 more years as the school librarian at
Jefferson Middle School in St. Charles.
She has given summer workshops for teachers to keep them up to
date on new children's books. She has taught children's literature
courses for teachers at Webster University and at the University of
Missouri at St. Louis. She recently retired but continues to teach
a course for teachers on how to use literature to promote good
In her view, Stine's books are the literary equivalent of junk
food. They also whet children's appetite for inappropriate, violent
and sick fantasies.
"Good doesn't triumph over evil," Hettich said. "Most of his
characters have psychological problems. People get killed, and
there is no resolution. He doesn't do any research. Most of the
books are just a set up for the sequel."
Hettich is well aware that she is swimming against a tsunami.
Nobody sells more books than R.L. Stine - 80 million or 90
million since 1992. With more than 50 "Goosebumps" titles already
on the shelf, Stine cranks out a new "Goosebumps" and "Fear Street"
book every month, published in printings of a million copies.
The books sell for $3.99 each. They are heavily promoted by the
Scholastic Book Club, which is responsible for those book-order
forms your children bring home from school every month or two.
Scholastic also maintains several Web pages on Stine's oeuvre -
including a hit TV series. …