Children's librarians are well aware that some kids are more easily frightened by others, and as a result lots of us tend to go easy with our Halloween programming. My audience was usually quite young, so I stayed on the Plumply Dumply Pumpkin end of the scariness spectrum, and never got much scarier than an interactive telling of The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything - and even then I kept watching my audience to see if I should make my clomp-clomps and clap-claps goofy rather than ominous.
How lovely, then, to get to tell and read stories to older kids, who WANT to be scared! For them, it was always The Peculiar Such Thing and Sopdoll, and any number of other folk tales, told with maximum suspense and creepy sound effects.
But one can't always predict what will scare a kid. When I took my older daughter to Knott's Berry Farm, she did just fine on her first roller coaster ride on the "Jaguar". What really freaked her out, though, was the atmospheric lead-up to the ride, which took the line through a dimly lit, Aztec-like temple full of eerie noises. In fact, any dimly lit and somewhat mysterious place had her clinging to me in terror, even if it was a museum - this one in particular literally made her run for the door. Granted, it's a weird museum, but scary? I wouldn't have thought so.
We had a coffee table book of Life photos in the house when I was a kid, and I pored over it incessantly, even obsessively. The context for most of the photos was unknown to me, so I just took the photos at face value, aided (sort of) by the short captions next to each one. Some photos were obviously tragic and disturbing (dead soldiers), some were obviously funny (a baby with spaghetti on its head) - but some I couldn't interpret at all.
It strikes me as odd now, but this photo filled me with dread. The caption used the term "pied piper" and said that he was leading the children away - and I knew the terrible ending to that particular tale. What was going on here? The photo seemed light-hearted on the surface, but I sensed very dark and sinister depths and was chilled everytime I looked at it.