Truth is Scarier than Fiction

Happy Halloween!

Nothing says Halloween like horror. Yet, while college students and faculty members alike may delight in a timeless gothic novel or a favorite slasher flick around this time of year, the Boston College community member with a young person in their life might have more difficulty selecting the perfect scary story to share.

Fortunately, the Educational Resource Center is here to help. Located on the ground floor of Campion Hall, within the Lynch School, the ERC is a curriculum library serving the needs of the School of Education and Human Development by providing access to all kinds of teaching practice materials for evaluation or use in the classroom – but all BC community members are welcome to visit and check out ERC books and manipulatives!

In an oft-cited study in the current popular discourse around literacy, it was found that children overwhelmingly prefer informational texts when given a choice between fiction and nonfiction. Why not, then, share a scary story from the real world? Here are a few illustrated options from Sibert Honor recipient and prolific children’s nonfiction writer Gail Jarrow that are sure to chill the bones.

Dramatic red and green book cover image of Spooked! by Gail Jarrow

For grades 5-9, Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America is not just about a scary story. It is a scary story in and of itself. When Orson Welles and John Houseman adapted H.G. Wells’ tale of alien invasion into an hour long radio drama set in the contemporary 1930s and composed of news bulletins, and cast an actor doing an impression of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for extra realism, people listening across America – already on edge about Hitler’s machinations in Europe – readily believed that the country really was under attack by Martian invaders. The terrifying broadcast provoked an even more disturbing reaction: frightened, panicked, hysteria. People frantically phoned loved ones, some nearly took drastic actions to avoid capture by the aliens, and the citizens of Grovers Mill, who heard their town was under attack, armed themselves and took to the streets to defend it. Jarrow earned a Robert F. Sibert Honor for this 2018 book for children, which like her other works, features photographs, diagrams, and appendices in addition to the historical narrative.

Dramatic book cover image of black and red graphic with shadowy figures: Ambushed! by Gail Jarrow

Ambushed!: The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield is the second installment of Jarrow’s Medical Fiascoes series, from 2021. This one, for grades 4-9, chronicles the all-but-forgotten story of a president who, in his time, was regarded as the most beloved since Washington – and his untimely demise. What a nail-biter! A self-made man and war hero, Garfield became the dark horse candidate and ultimate winner of the 1880 Republican Convention, going on to win the general election and ascend to the presidency. Lurking in the shadows, though, was the perennial failure and onetime religious fanatic turned unhinged stalker, Charles Guiteau. The assassin struck after weeks of planning, but it wasn’t the lead bullet that would kill James Garfield. The second movement of this excellent nonfiction book for children tells how Garfield suffered for 80 days while the country prayed for his recovery, only to succumb to infections caused by his doctors’ dirty fingers digging in his wounds. It is said that had they left the bullet in, the man who was said to be steering the nation’s ship towards good governance might even have lived. Ambushed! is truly a horror double feature.

Creepy blue and gray book cover of American Murderer by Gail Jarrow, with a magnified image of a hookworm

Finally, brand new to the ERC stacks is American Murderer: The Parasite That Haunted the South, the latest Medical Fiascoes book from Gail Jarrow, for grades 5-12. Lovers of vampire fiction will gravitate to this work of vampire nonfiction, the true story of the hookworm infection that plagued the rural American South so severely that the physicians who first went to investigate it were shocked that there were any rural Southerners who were not infected, due to poor living conditions. The sinister worm would infect its host’s body through their skin and then travel to the small intestine. From there, it would wreak havoc, and cause its victim to become gaunt, tired, anemic, and bug-eyed. Perhaps just as cruelly, hookworm disease likely also contributed to the emergence of the stereotype of the backward Southerner. The efforts of science in conjunction with the Theodore Roosevelt administration drove a stake through the heart of the vampire, and free dispensaries across the South helped us get closer to eradication, albeit domestically. The scary truth here is that hookworm still affects up to a billion people worldwide today.

This Halloween, remember, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction! Happy holidays and stay safe, from the Educational Resource Center.