Ears on the Odyssey

Spooktober Series: Don’t Turn Out the Lights

Cue music…it’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not the winter holidays, silly! It’s October, which means that the leaves are changing, the pumpkin spice is brewing, and spooky stories are all the rage. I kind of think that spooky stories should be the rage ALL the time, but that’s just me. Happily, October is the month that we can embrace the scary and the creepy, the unsettling and the nightmarish. And you’re in luck, because we are delighted to present some top-notch spooky audios for your listening pleasure. Or listening terror? Mwah hah ha!

If you know me, you know that I am a broken record (pun intended, of course!) when it comes to audiobooks. I rarely read with my eyes and listen to almost everything. When we start talking books, I will 100% tell you about the audio, and if I haven’t listened, I’m going to see what I can do about tracking down a copy. So, it may not come as a surprise to hear that I absolutely, positively, with all of my heart believe that you have to listen to horror. These are stories that are meant to be told with all of the drama that we can muster, with creepy voices that whisper in our ears, with unsettling sounds that linger after the lights have been turned out. Audiobooks are intimate anyhow, but when you introduce an element of horror…whew!

During the month of October, we at Ears on the Odyssey are pleased to present some of our favorites in recent audio horror. There’s something for everyone, from middle grade horror to some truly unsettling stories for teens. To kick us off, I wanted to focus on a very fun collection, edited by the super fantastic Jonathan Maberry—Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Here goes!

Don’t Turn Out the Lights is an homage to Alvin Schwartz, who wrote an iconic series of middle-grade scary stories that were eerie, shocking, weird, and occasionally very funny, too. The stories were accompanied by chilling illustrations, drawn by the talented Stephen Gammell. This new anthology, authored by an all-star group of authors, perfectly captures the feel of Alvin Schwartz’s original stories, updated for a new generation.

Standout stories include a horrifying tale about brain spiders, written by Luis Alberto Urrea and Rosario Urrea, where, well, do I have to say more? Brain spiders! So disturbing. I continue to be haunted by Amy Lukavics’ story, “The Neighbor,” which is creepy and heartbreaking all at once. And we can’t forget “The House on the Hill,” by Micol Ostow, which is a modern twist on the classic story of spending a single night in a haunted house. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well.

Hillary Huber and Adam Verner do an admirable job in narrating these tales. Huber’s precise narrative style pairs well with the tone of these stories, lending an element of understated horror that hearkens back to earlier days. Verner’s presention is a foil to Huber’s approach, as his stories are narrated with a warmth that makes the stories’ gruesome reveals all the more shocking.

While this audio collection is thoroughly entertaining, I somewhat mourn the lack of illustrations. Now, I know that is not a fair criticism, since this is an audiobook, after all, but the illustrations in the print collection are absolutely spectacular, and frankly, unbelievably scary. Iris Compiet’s ink wash and charcoal illustrations pay stunning homage to Stephen Gammell’s original illustrations, and I did feel their absence.

My one disappointment with this collection is that I would have loved to have heard the voices of more narrators. Huber and Verner’s performances are solid, but their approach remains similar throughout. Considering that so many authors lent their talents to this project, I would have appreciated hearing more diversity in the narratorial approach as well. Also, speaking of diversity, it would have been nice to have had authentic voices for the few multi-cultural stories, including “The Weeping Woman,” “The Painted Skin,” and “Hachishakusama.” #OwnVoices encompasses narrators as well as authors, after all.

All in all, however, this is a deliciously spooky collection, one that is sure to ignite a love of horror amongst middle grade listeners.

Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, edited by Jonathan Maberry, written by R.L. Stine, Amy Lukavics, Barry Lyga, Brendan Reichs, Brenna Yovanoff, Christopher Golden, Courtney Alameda, D. J. MacHale, Josh Malerman, Kami Garcia, Madeleine Roux, Margaret Stohl, Michael Northrop, Micol Ostow, narrated by Adam Verner and Hillary Huber. 6 hours, 51 minutes. HarperAudio, 2020.

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