It’s easy to assume that due to the popularity of the Goosebumps franchise in the 1990s, it instigated a flood of similarly themed YA books about kids facing supernatural and not-so-supernatural horrors in their daily lives. Hell, even the Babysitter Club books did a horror-themed spin-off. Here are as many titles as I can think of:
Shivers, Spinetinglers, Strange Matter, Spooksville (Christopher Pike’s Goosebumps!), Ghosts of Fear Street (Goosebumps on Fear Street), Choose Your Own Nightmare, American Chillers, Fright Time, Spinechillers (the Christian Goosebumps), Deadtime Stories (Nickelodeon did adaptations of these a couple of years ago), Bone Chillers (this one got a TV show in the 90s), and numerous other titles. Not to mention the vast number of standalone novels published by Apple and Scholastic like “The Dollhouse Murders” and “The Ghost That Came Alive,” although many of those books were originally published long before Goosebumps was a thing.
What set some of these books apart is their subject matter could get surprisingly darker and more mature than you’d think. “The Dollhouse Murders” involved a girl’s strained relationship with her autistic sister. “Shivers” included deliberate talks about child abuse and racism, and one book even went into detail about the Nazi Holocaust. Another thing which set these stories apart is it was more likely to read about kids who felt and acted like real kids. In “Goosebumps” it was increasingly standard to have main characters surrounded by shoddy and untrustworthy friends scheming against them for petty reasons, alongside abusive parents and siblings making their lives difficult for laughs. In these books, it was more likely to read about kids who, while they could be assholes from time to time, weren’t actively trying to sabotage each other and acted like, dare I say, real friends?
Graveyard School was one of those titles, published around 1994 up until 1998 with 28 entries. Written by “Tom B. Stone,” which may or may not be a pen name for Todd Strasser, I’m not sure. The Graveyard School series was one of those rare series that had a single cast of characters instead of interchangeable one-shot protagonists. There was no ongoing/overreaching plot to the 28 books, but there were a few themes which connected the books as well as a tendency to reference past incidents. Each book also came with a small activities section in the back, usually a word puzzle or tips for party planning or science experiments.
The books go as follows
- Don’t Eat The Mystery Meat!
- The Skeleton on the Skateboard
- The Headless Bicycle Rider
- Little Pet Werewolf
- Revenge of the Dinosaurs
- Camp Dracula
- Slime Lake
- Let’s Scare The Teacher To Death
- The Abominable Snow Monster
- There’s A Ghost In The Boy’s Bathroom
- April Ghouls Day
- Scream, Team!
- Tales Too Scary To Tell At Camp
- The Tragic School Bus
- The Fright Before Christmas
- Don’t Tell Mummy
- Jack and the Beanstalker
- The Dead Sox
- The Gator Ate Her
- Creature Teacher
- The Skeleton’s Revenge
- Boo Year’s Eve
- The Easter Egg Haunt
- Scream Around The Campfire
- Escape From Vampire Park
- Little School Of Horrors
- Here Comes Santa Claws
- The Spider Beside Her
How I Learned Of This Series: During one of the book fairs my elementary school regularly held, I purchased a copy of “There’s A Ghost In The Boy’s Bathroom” because it was the only book that captured my interest. That was most likely 1998 or 1999. Then in early 2004 I looked up the series on the “Fantastic Fiction” website and found out about the other 27 books. I recall it was February, and around this same time my sibling and I just purchased the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie on video. Listening to the movie’s soundtrack still makes me recall the feelings from that day.
It wasn’t until September of that year when I bought a bulk listing off eBay containing most of the series, alongside a separate purchase of “Boo’s Year Eve.” I then slowly acquired every book I was missing until I finally completed the set.
While these aren’t exactly “obscure” obscure, almost no one ever talks about these books. I personally created both the Wikipedia page and the TV Tropes page for “Graveyard School” because I got sick of waiting for someone else to do it first.
The Problem: The kids of Grove Hill pray and hope they will live to see their elementary school graduation. Why? Because Grove Hill Elementary was built adjacent to an abandoned graveyard, but though it’s abandoned, its influence lives on in more than just the nickname “Graveyard School.” Graveyard School is the setting to many life threatening situations, and employs a number of odd and downright terrifying educational figures. The parents, teenagers, and adults of Grove Hill are either blissfully unaware or living in denial that something is deeply, terribly wrong with the school and the town, so the kids have to rely on their wits and make it through the days until middle school by themselves. Mainly, it’s the sixth grade class who deal with more than they deserve, since they’re just on the cusp of getting out of Graveyard School for good.
The Horror: Graveyard Hill is mainly believed to be the source of the weirdness Grove Hill’s seeped in. The kids all know this, but are more focused on trying to stay alive until graduation. There’s even talk of a grave which glows in the dark upon Graveyard Hill, but no one’s been able to find it.
The Teachers: The head of Graveyard School is the intimidating and inhuman principal, Dr. Morthouse. A woman of few words and possibly a silver fang in her mouth (students frequently catch glimpse of the fabled fang, but don’t know if it’s real or not) Dr. Morthouse keeps order with a steely gaze and can make the first graders cry without trying. She might not even have a first name. Below her is the oily and saccharine Vice Principal Hannibal Lucre, a man of poor fashion sense and desperation. Legendary for the solitary strand of hair combed across his gleaming bald spot, his brown suits and bow ties, and the damp noise his hands make when he rubs them together, Mr. Lucre frequently tries to remind the students that he is their friend. Manning the front office is the indignant and grumpy Mr. Kinderbane, who’ll insist (when out of earshot of Dr. Morthouse) that he has a school to run. The good doctor frequently puts Kinderbane in his place like an unruly dog. The only person more intimidating than Dr. Morthouse is the janitor, Mr. Bartholomew, a.k.a. “Basement Bart.” Dressed in army fatigues and sunglasses, Basement Bart can pop out of thin air whenever a fight breaks out or a mess is made. It’s believed he may actually live in the school basement, which is practically an underground labyrinth. The school lunches are considered disgusting by the kids, but eat them anyway because bringing lunch from home is considered babyish. The only named cafeteria worker to feature into the plot of a book was Ms. Stoker in the first entry. Her dishes included “Cannibal Stew.” Make of that what you will.
[Wing: KINDERBANE. A principal who might have a silver fang. I love this series already.]
The teachers fluctuate from book to book. The two most human teachers are Ms. Camp, an English teacher who tends to be disorganized, and Ms. Beamer, the art teacher known for wearing lots of bracelets and bell-shaped earrings. Beyond them, the teaching staff is made up of bullies and borderline sadists (with names like Mrs. Beak, Mr. Melon, Mr. Weazell, Ms. Manidble, Mrs. Storch, Mrs. Dedd, etc.) who vary from being assholes to possible monsters. Whether or not they’re human or just jerks is up for debate.
As far as the rest of the staff goes, Morthouse and the others aren’t actively trying to murder and terrorize the kids (well, terrorize them THAT much). So long as nobody’s misbehaving or going out of their way to antagonize the staff, Morthouse leaves them alone. Her reoccurring presence brings about anxiety of survival-based fear from the students, but if she went too far over the line the parents might finally suspect something’s off. She’s admittedly at her most blatantly evil in “Creature Teacher,” after discovering the kind substitute teacher Ms. King has the gall to allow laughter in her classroom.
The Kids: Stone, Strasser, or whatever his name is, focused on a single cast of kids with rotating protagonists throughout the 28 books. Only a handful of kids would star in one book and never appear again, while the rest would have starring roles or get to be supporting or background characters in every other entry.
Park Addams, Stacey Carter, and Polly Hannah are the three most consistently occurring characters in the series, but you couldn’t call them the main characters since there is no main story.
Park is the class’s baseball enthusiast, Stacey runs a small dog walking business after school, and Polly’s the girl everyone can’t stand. Park and Stacey were the main characters of the first book in the series. After that they fluctuate from entry to entry as either main, supporting, or background character. Polly has never been a main character, but nevertheless appears in practically every book. The closest she’s come to having a substantial role was in the eighth book.
For as much as Park is a baseball nut, he’s also a good sport and an excellent team player. He’s often the one to team up with the protagonists in the other books. Stacey’s a devoted animal lover and has a pet bull dog named Morris she cares for very deeply. Stacey has good business sense and she often wears her hair in a sleek French braid.
Polly is… well, she’s the Libby. The Alpha Bitch. But no one likes her, which is fine with her because she doesn’t like anyone else. Her outfits are all painfully coordinated (she wears ironed jeans when she’s not wearing dresses) in shades of pale blue, pink, and butter yellow, creating the image of a demented Barbie Doll by how rigid she is. Polly’s the token class suck-up, even with teachers as terrifying as Dr. Morthouse (but even Polly has her limits). Of course, some of the teachers are well aware of how nasty Polly is and don’t like her as well. No creativity or imagination, her classmates wonder if Polly is even human. Yet she still hangs out with them, so she comes across more like the neighborhood jerk similar to Roger Klotz. She’s nasty, but ultimately harmless.
As much as I’d want to go into detail about all the kids, it’d save time to discuss the ones with the most discernible personalities:
- Jaws Bennett: The kid who will eat anything, even roadkill. While the narration will describe Jaws’ first appearance in the books as either big or round, he’s never outright referred to as chubby or fat. Likewise, the source of humor in his roles doesn’t come from him being “The Fat Kid,” but instead “The Kid Who’ll Eat Anything.” He’s the only one who enjoys the rancid school lunches.
- Maria Medina: Stacey’s best friend, a dark-skinned girl with spiky black bangs. Enjoys rollerblading and collecting oversized rugby shirts, which she wears every day. Is on the school soccer team. Stacey and Maria are rarely seen apart at school and the two are incredibly loyal to each other. She’s probably the one kid who dislikes Polly the most out of everyone else.
- Algernon “Algie” Green: The new kid in class, Algie immediately stands out not just for his name, but his short stature, glasses, and the small ponytail at the nape of his neck. Algie delivers papers and has good money sense like Stacey. He’s on the soccer and baseball teams, but is more into baseball. When he first transferred to Graveyard School, he was bullied by class douchebag Jason Duunbar until he helped Kirstin Bjork beat Jason for class president.
- Skate McGraw: Skateboard nut #1. Real name Ryan. A boy of few words. He prides himself on taking care of and respecting his boards. Can be very stubborn at times, and hopes to one day get skateboarding turned into an Olympic sport. His cousin is…
- Vickie Wheilson: One of my favorites. Skateboard nut #2. Vickie’s the most vivid character in the series, because the narration always describes her insane clothes. Vickie often dresses like she got in a fight with a Crayola box and won. Typically wears oversized sweaters in shades of purple and orange, with Day Glo high-top sneakers. Rides a neon colored skateboard, and her spiky red-orange hair resembles an exploded dandelion (Because it was the 90s, you see!). She acts without thinking, and once got Skate involved in a contest with follow-up douchebag and Skateboard nut #3, Eddie Hover. However, Vickie sticks by Skate because she knows she got him into this mess, and basically stopped Skate from selling his soul to beat Eddie.
- Jordie Flanders: My other favorite of the main cast. The smartest girl in the sixth grade, earning her the nickname “The Human Computer.” She’s very articulate and verbose, speaking rather formally and analytically, like she’s solving an equation, but not all the time. She can be very sarcastic and deadpan, with a slightly twisted sense of humor. She’s not a teacher’s pet, but she’s got no time or respect for teachers who suck at their job because she cares about learning.
- Kirstin Bjork: Sixth grade class president and captain of the soccer team. Has zero patience for Jason Duunbar’s bullying machismo, and beat him for class president because she was sick of him threatening people for their votes.
- Marc and Terri Foster: The token twins of the class. Marc’s the serious, introspective twin to Terri’s energetic, outgoing twin. Marc often wonders which of them is the Evil Twin, Marc because he’s so dour, or Terri because she’s so gosh darn chipper even in the face of mortal danger. Of course, because Terri’s so nice, she has a much easier time getting people to answer her questions.
- David Pike: The science kid, but not as overtly smart as Jordie Flanders. His brother Richie is a dino-fanatic.
- Tyson Walker: Is to soccer what Park is to baseball. Thinks on his feet and is also a good sport, and expresses open disgust at parents who only give a shit about their kids winning games. Is only ever described as having short dreads for hair.
- Jason Duunbar: The literal worst besides Polly Hannah, and not in an entertaining way. A stereotypical meathead bully who threatens people to get what he wants, can and will resort to physical violence, and teases kids for having “girlfriends” or “boyfriends.” Thankfully gets knocked down a few pegs.
- Eddie Hoover: Is to Skate and Vickie what Jason is to Algie and Kirstin. Eddie’s a real meathead, a skateboarder who practically destroys every board he owns. His family’s implied to be rich, which is how he can keep affording new boards. He’s followed around by his lackey Roy Carnes, who seems to worship the ground Eddie skates on.
- Ken Dahl: Pretty much the one thing Ken has going for him is that he’s the stupidest kid in class.
- Christopher Hampton: The class financial wiz. He’s got every penny he’s earned since he was in kindergarten, and unsurprisingly he’s the Scrooge stand-in for the Christmas Carol knockoff.
- Kyle Chilton: Only appeared in two books, but has enough of a distinct personality. Can be stubborn and single minded in whatever he puts his energy towards, which may not always be a good thing. But regardless of the circumstances, he will NOT go down without a fight.
- Bentley Jeste: The class clown and king of practical jokes. Will wage all out war on teachers (except Dr. Morthouse, obviously), but has enough of a conscience to extend mercy to teachers who don’t deserve it (even if he doesn’t like them). That said, he knows perfectly well nobody trusts him, but his skepticism may have helped him develop the ability to read people’s personalities and recognize truly aberrant behavioral shifts.
- Skip Wolfson: His parents run a pet supply store, and he has a weird little brother. One of the few bits of consistent continuity says his family moved to a farmhouse outside of town after the fourteenth book. Suffers from severe trochophobia (fear of buses).
- Blue Russell: The second new kid. Other than his name, there’s nothing unusual about Blue, which is why he doesn’t understand why he was put in Mrs. Storch’s homeroom. The kids aren’t that bad, but they seem to share a big secret. A big, monstrous secret.
- Mel West: The artistic kid, but a bit pretentious. Ask him to draw a bowl of fruit and he’ll sketch out what the fruit makes him feel like on the inside. He’s practicing drawing with his left hand, and Ms. Beamer will give thoughtful critics of his work as if he were an adult.
- Ari Spinner: Ah yes, the mysterious Miss Spinner. No one knows who she is or where she comes from. The teachers don’t scare her in the slightest. She has no friends, but she’s not hated like Polly is. Ari has no interest in her fellow human beings, unless they suddenly grew six extra legs, could spin webs, and suck out organs through their mouths. You guessed it, she’s an arachnophile.
So the books go out of their way to establish the kids all have different interests and goals in their lives beyond surviving the sixth grade. Some of the one-shot protagonists don’t have much in way of personalities and are there simply to keep the story going. The narration doesn’t try to dumb things down for the readers by having the kids act really stupid or too “kiddie” kiddie, but while they aren’t miniature adults, the kids do have a better sense of the world than the protagonists of a Goosebumps book.
For starters, they’re more prone to confronting whatever horror is bedeviling them instead of just falling into it. This is especially true if other people’s lives are at stake. It’s true they aren’t going out of their way to solve the mystery of Graveyard Hill and Dr. Morthouse, but if it’s an immediate threat they’ll do what they can. Hey, they’re not trying to be heroes. For that matter, they’re also not trying to be saints. They may not be sadistic little brats, but that doesn’t mean they’re exempt from acting like dicks to each other from time to time. That just makes them believable, because who here hasn’t given their friends a hard time at some point in their lives?
In “The Fright Before Christmas” and “Here Comes Santa Claws” none of them are eagerly hoping to get lots of gifts for Christmas, and it’s implied that’s more a phase they go through when they’re younger. Park expresses disgust at how the stores and TV commercials always try to get you to spend more money on useless junk you don’t need, recalling a past experience with a toy he really wanted that broke the second he played with it. When they call out Christopher Hampton on his Scrooge-like attitude around Christmas, he points out many people don’t celebrate the holiday. The kids say that’s not the point, acknowledging that all cultures and religions have at least one holiday or celebration. Their problem isn’t that he’s against celebrating Christmas, but that his miserable attitude is ruining the fun for everyone else.
There’s an ongoing trend throughout the books about environmentalism, but not in an extreme “Captain Planet” sort of the way. The kids are just responsible enough to not throw their trash around wherever they feel like. This is most prominent in “Revenge of the Dinosaurs” and “Slime Lake.” “Slime Lake” especially has the kids (except Polly Hannah) disgusted at what a businessman is doing to the aforementioned lake and surrounding wildlife, preparing to dredge the lake and demolish the nearby swamp to build a resort and condos. Stacey expresses concern about what damaging the swamp would do to the local wildlife, and overall the kids are turned off by how commercialized and gaudy the lake’s new recreational area is.
They aren’t glory hogs when it comes to sports. I’ve explained that Park and Tyson are good sports and team players, but the books mention that trying to outdo everyone else on your team regardless of what the game is should not be considered a healthy attitude. In “Scream Team,” the Grove Hill soccer team frequently beats the Belville Academy team because the Belville kids are incapable of playing together without trying to individually steal the spotlight. They have no teamwork, no sense of grace when it comes to losing, and their parents are even worse. Every other soccer and baseball team that appears besides the Grove Hill and Belville teams are able to work together and act respectful in the face of losing.
What makes all these themes work is that the books don’t repeatedly beat you over the head with them. Add all these together, and it’s like they’re trying to make it clear that kids aren’t stupid.
The Books Themselves: The books aren’t terribly long, and most could be finished within at least a couple of hours. Some aren’t even a 100 pages long. There are:
- 7 books that take place during the summer
- 2 at summer camps
- 2 fairy tale based books
- 2 sequel books
- 2 during Christmas
- 1 during New Year’s Eve
- 1 during Halloween
- 1 during Thanksgiving
- 1 during Easter
- 1 during April Fool’s
- 1 anthology book
The summer books can be kind of tricky to figuring out a timeline for events, because it can be hard to determine if they take place before or after the kids finished the sixth grade. Even when the books explicitly mention stuff that happened during the school year it still feels like the kids will be heading back to Graveyard School even though they should’ve graduated by now.
The stories are mainly supernatural, with only one full book featuring aliens in the plot. The extent of the horror goes beyond just Graveyard School, because even if the kids are on vacation the weirdness will eventually follow them. You’ve got ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and monsters, but you’ve also got:
- Stoker, the aforementioned psychotic lunch lady.
- The Skeleton on the Skateboard
- The Headless Bicycle Rider
- Dinosaur figurines that grow and come to life [Wing: I AM SO EXCITED! #dinosaursdudesdinosaurs]
- The monster underneath Slime Lake
- A soccer coach using what can only be called “zombie juice” to turn his team into an army of unstoppable juggernauts
- A huge ghost alligator
- A ravenous Easter bunny hatched from a literal Easter egg
- An evil Santa with a buzz cut and claws, whose sleigh is pulled by GIANT, TALKING RATS
- A spider that grants wishes by biting people
The prose and tone of the novels doesn’t go into quite vivid detail about the horrors that plague the kids. There’s an air of mystery as some events are left to the reader’s imaginations, sequences that leave you wondering if they really did see something strange or if it was imagined. Not every haunting is given a total explanation when it ends, but since the kids want to put it behind them they’re not complaining.
Only a couple of books have characters who more or less act like douchebags, but in those situations it reads more like the equivalent of going to a car show just to see the cars crash. You know it’ll happen and you hope it’ll be spectacular. “Let’s Scare The Teacher To Death” is one where both sides of the conflict give as good as they get, but it’s hard to figure out which side you should root for.
The first ten books or so sometimes end on a note where the main character will turn out to be more deeply connected to whatever strange event they endured than we were led to believe. And thankfully the books avoid insane, contradictory twist endings like were prominent in the Goosebumps books, but there are a few twists here and there.
I’d love to suggest you guys try to find some of these to read them yourselves, but unfortunately some are either hard to find or you can find them on Amazon and eBay at rather ridiculous prices. I think someone’s trying to get a thousand bucks for “Little School of Horrors.” I was lucky to find them while they were cheap, so I’ve decided, alongside the Goosebumps recaps I’d like to start doing recaps for all y’all.
Ah, me. They broke the mold.
Oh, and a little fun fact. The covers of the latter half of the series were all done by Mark Nagata. He’s the guy who did the cover art for the first half of the “Give Yourself Goosebumps” series (well Tim Jacobus did the actual first). You can find some of the original cover artwork on his website, facebook, and tumblr pages.
[Wing: I’ve never read the books, and haven’t been able to get my hands on them yet, so I’m very excited to read these recaps!]