'It Came From Ohio!'
The Life of the Frighteningly Famous R.L.Stine
An autobiography of America's best-selling author scares up opportunities to explore the everyday fears, frights -- and fun! -- of growing up
Story-writing ideas included!
The most haunting holiday of the year is lurking just around the corner. Is there any better way to celebrate than by reading the creepy tales of
As a matter of fact, there is: Read It Came From Ohio! My Life As a Writer, by R.L. Stine, as told to Joe Arthur (1997 Parachute Press/Scholastic Books).
This fascinating biography takes kids into the life of America's best-selling author, without the horror, gore -- and controversy -- of his Goosebumps and Fear Street series.
Read a Goosebumps book as a class? Way too scary of an idea. Some kids are sure to find the books too frightening, and some parents are sure to
object. Read It Came From Ohio!? A definite yes for the middle grades. Stine's story is sure to inspire any kid who feels different, is always picked last for the team, or who would rather spend hours alone, immersed in an imaginary world. Stine was all of these, yet he seemed to weather it well, capitalizing on his strengths as a smart and witty writer (and teller of terrifying tales to an audience of one -- his little brother!) to carry him gallantly through childhood and into adulthood.
Some of the best passages of the book are his stories of moments that frightened him as a kid, memories he draws upon when writing a scary scene. When he wants to describe the sheer terror a character is feeling, Stine thinks back to the paralyzing fear he felt when faced with jumping in a pool to earn a Red Cross badge at summer camp. He says:
"As I got closer and closer to the front of the line, panic swept over me. I knew I couldn't jump in. I could swim easily from one end of the pool to the other. But the idea of jumping into the pool froze me in terror. What was I going to do? . . . My turn. I stepped up to the edge of the pool. I gazed into the water. I froze. I knew I couldn't do it . . . Everyone was calling to me, urging me to jump . . . But I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe. I was too afraid."
Stine draws on other childhood emotions, too. In The Haunted Mask, for example, he turned to the embarrassment of having to wear the same duck costume for Halloween year after year, and dressed the book's character in a duck costume too.
Every child has these moments of fear, panic and embarrassment. Help your students tap into them for creative writing assignments.
- What are the scariest moments they've ever experienced? Did they get separated from their family in a crowd? Forget their lines in a school play? Get turned around when riding bikes and find themselves in an unfamiliar neighborhood? Hear weird noises in the basement when they were home alone? Get sick during a piano recital? Freeze on the high-dive? Write about it!
- Take the assignment a step further, and ask students to use those feelings in writing a creepy scene.
- Another idea: Use It Came From Ohio! to inspire kids to write their own autobiographies, or to pair up with a friend to tell their stories. Stine told his story to his longtime friend Joe Arthur, who penned the book. Arthur undoubtedly helped Stine along by asking questions and helping decide what was worth writing about -- which stories were good, and which were booooring. A pair of kids could act as "celebrity" and biographer for each other.
- Get more imaginative: Have students write a fantasy autobiography -- pretend they're Stine's age (52), and write a look back at their first five decades.
The writer of at least 24 books a year, Stine is always in need of ideas, and indeed, that is the No. 1 question asked of him: Where do you get your
"I find it a really difficult question to answer," he says. "I always want to say: 'Where do you get your ideas?' Because we all have ideas -- right?"
We do. But, unlike Stine, we don't always follow through, and in that he is truly inspirational. Stine is successful because he knows his audience, and,
even more so, I think, because he has followed his desires all his life. He loved to write, even as a young child, and he pursued writing with a passion, a self-described "nerd" who spent hours alone in his room creating his own publications (typing with one finger, which he still does!).
He stuck with his passion through failures and ho-hum jobs (the scariest job he ever had? substitute teacher!) and continues to pursue his passion with
an unnecessary zeal in the wake of enormous financial success. The man who endured a long afternoon at his first book-signing (one book sold and
autographed) more recently faced an overwhelming crowd of 5,000 people in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
It Came From Ohio! puts a face on the name of R.L. Stine (known as "Bob" in his younger days), complete with photographs and examples of his early hand-drawn literary efforts (he really was a funny kid!). The book prompts children to look to everyday life for imaginative inspiration -- and to look beyond the book to the author for some of the best stories of all.
Article by Colleen Newquist
Copyright © 1997 Education World
FOR MORE ABOUT R.L. STINE
- Most Intriguing People: R.L. Stine Story from People magazine's "most intriguing people of 1995" issue (12/25/95).
- Stine gives kids 'Goosebumps' with frightening speed. (USA Today story)
- Goosebumps series scares up more school controversy. (USA Today story)
- Goosebumps on the Web For more information about Goosebumps and Fear Street, see this site from Scholastic.