PJ's Picks: February 2024

PJ's Picks

Short & Shivery

By Bookseller PJ


Children have hungry brains. Curiosity drives their hunger for information input. More, more, more. What is that animal? Where does money come from? Why do people kiss each other? More, more, more—so many questions. Is there enough time in the day to help younger folks satisfy all that curiosity while also running errands, working, and feeding your people? Probably not. To help keep those hungry young minds satiated when the more experienced are otherwise unable to help, there exists a spectrum of fiction.

Mythology and folklore have long circulated as sorts of stews swimming with bits and chunks of the fabricating societies’ historical context, moral views, and theological beliefs, serving to impart both the knowledge and fascinations of long-gone souls. Much like stews and food dishes of yore, the recipes for folklore and mythology sometimes change as they pass through different cooks’ hands. Mythology and folklore true to the original remains, but retellings and reimaginings exist for those uninitiated or those with more modern sensibilities.

In 1987, writer Robert D. San Souci’s Short & Shivery: Thirty Chilling Tales, illustrated by Katherine Coville, was published by Yearling Books. The thirty chilling tales collected in Short & Shivery are all retellings by San Souci. Japanese folktales, Appalachian folktales, and Norse mythology appear alongside Native American folklore retellings and Mexican folktales. This potpourri of classic tales from a variety of cultures and storytellers makes for a potent blend. Despite being from a wide variety of sources, these tales all share a focus betrayed by the book’s title and cover. I’d be remiss to not mention Katherine Coville’s illustrations accompanying most of the tales here. Some of the illustrations are creepy but none of them are half as terrifying as Stephen Gammell’s illustrations in the Scary Tales to Tell in the Dark series, another series aimed at coloring kids’ imaginations with macabre hues. Coville’s illustrations are neither hyper-realistic nor hyper-stylized; they are sketch-like pieces generally evocative of 1990s cartoons for children. The illustrations serve their stories well without stifling one’s own theater of the mind.


Illustration by Katherine Coville for the story "The Robber Bridegroom"

Shivery, spooky, or scary—any of these terms work to describe the genre these folktales and myths fall into. A ghastly congregation, spiders bigger than boulders, werewolves, and (my favorite) Tailypo all color the 170 pages penned by San Souci. Death looms like a specter here, stalking these tales’ foggy forests and dusty Costa Rican roads. Young folks curious about death and what it means will find their imagination throttled by San Souci’s retellings. As a young person preoccupied with death and what happens to the dead, I couldn’t pull myself away from these pages. Really, I read my original copy until the pages began to fall out. Having replaced that copy, I still turn to favorites like “Midnight Mass of the Dead”, “Tailypo”, “The Cegua”, “The Green Mist”, and “The Lovers of Dismal Swamp” when I want a quick, imaginative tale of those close encounters with the dead or supernatural. Living up to the title, Short & Shivery’s prose is short and straightforward. Here lies simple writing but these tales are so captivating, the imagination can’t help but draw between the lines.

Illustration of the Tailypo by Katherine Coville for the story "The Devil's Elbow"

For any person young or old who’s interested in folktales or mythology, death or the supernatural, Short & Shivery is a must. This book begat a lifelong love of folktales for me, and it inspired me to discover and study new spiritualities and mythologies. Adding even more to Short & Shivery’s lifelong gift is a handy note on sources that functions as a kind of bibliography and contextualization for the stories compiled. These sources offer a jumping-off point for anyone wanting to study these particular tales further. Short & Shivery is the first title in a four-book series, but I’ve never read the other titles. If you read or have read those other titles, please feel free to tell me all about them.

These spooky stories are for all. They are stories from generations past that will continue to entertain and provoke thought in the present. Maybe you’ll love some of these stories so much, you’ll relay them to loved ones in the future. Like Short & Shivery’s tagline says: “Everyone loves a spooky story. Don’t you?”


Short & Shivery: Scary Short Stories for Kids By Robert D. San Souci, Katherine Coville (Illustrator) Cover Image
$7.99
This book is hard-to-find or out of print and we may not be able to get it. Email for more details.
ISBN: 9780440418047
Published: Yearling - September 11th, 2001

Make story time a little spookier with this Halloween-themed collection of ghost stories, spooky shorts, and frightening folktales from all over the world!

“No one travels these roads after dark. Those who are found the next day, if they are still alive, will have gone mad.”