Saturday, April 18, 2015

"Goosebumps" and Accelerated Reader

I was a massive fan of the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine growing up.  At one time I owned the entire original series, all the choose your own adventures, the short stories, posters, calendars, and pogs (yes, the pogs, Alf was not on them, Monster Blood was).  I also watched the show, taping and re-watching them and lending them to my friend and his family to watch.

I donated nearly all my YS paperbacks to the local library when I finally out grew them along with my "Ghosts of Fear Street" (also Stine), “Animorphs” (K.A. Applegate) and "Spooksville" (Christopher Pike, now being turned into a TV series of all things, I will watch it if they ever put it on Netflix).

Goosebumps was a huge part of my childhood and I consider it a breaking point in my education.  I have or had a mild reading disorder (I imagine it is why I still mispronounce and misspell words well into my 20’s) and I remember my Mom taking me to the mall bookstore and telling me that I could get any book I wanted to try and find something that interested me enough that I would push thru the difficulties I was having.

            I picked up “You Can’t Scare Me!” primarily because the cover was so evocative, and over the course of a few days I blitzed thru it.  The chapters were short, punchy, and all of them ended on a cliffhanger, leaving me wanting to read more.  I learned about what interested me and for all my love of “Ghostbusters” and superheroes this fit into my world view, of there being fantastic things that were creeping in around the edges.
I cannot find the picture I had of my collection splayed out on my living room floor with me next to it, taken back when I was twelve, but this image does a lot to illustrate the effect.
            I moved on to other fantasy and horror stories and became such a constant and voracious reader that all thru middle school I was gulping down novels 100+ pages each day.  My father made a deal with me that I think he mildly regrets considering the ultimate expense, “If you read it, I will buy it for you.”  This is when the schools AR program came in.

            AR, or Accelerated Reader allowed for you to read from a group of several hundred books and take tests on them.  Based on how difficult the books were in reading level and size you got more points, and those points could be spent on prizes at a store in the middle school library.  My mom operated the store and I helped her pick out the toys and games that could be offered there.  Since I had at this point started reading Piers Anthony’s Xanth series (all 18 of the novels that existed at the time in my 8th grade year (each worth 14-18 points) I ended up ranked 6th for AR points in the entire middle school of about 900 kids.  I did so well that they just stopped bothering to list me as having a reading/writing disability.

About 5 years ago I managed to buy a copy of my favorite Goosebumps’ book "Night of the Living Dummy" and made my way with my father to a book expo in Sarasota Florida where Stine was signing books.  (Ironically Stephen King was not present even though he lives in Sarasota and my father has seen the old guy riding around on his bike while talking on his cell phone, you would figure after King nearly died in a car accident he would be more careful about that kind of thing).

I was the last person in line, in my mid 20's, and just sputtered out how important the series was to me growing up and how it was the first books that got me into reading.  Stine had been hearing that sort of thing all day and I was sort of star struck so I am unsure as to how he responded, mostly about how much he liked writing the character of Slappy (the flagship Dummy character that is one of the mascots of the whole series).  I still have the signed book and continue to try and write my own stuff even now.  Using many of the tricks I held as so captivating when I was a kid flipping pages under the illumination of my purple and yellow “Goosebumps” book light.  Keep it short and punchy, keep them wanting more.

            (I am also deeply looking forward to the movie.)

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