1. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
What it’s about: These anthologies collect spooky folklore and creepy short stories and pair them with completely effed-up artwork.
Why it’s traumatizing: The tales in the Scary Stories anthologies are pretty standard horror fare, but Stephen Gammell’s accompanying illustrations incited nightmares for a generation of children. The books were frequently challenged by lame parents — and in 2011, all the illustrations were replaced with more pleasant artwork.
2. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
What it’s about: A spider named Charlotte who spins messages into her web to save her best friend, a pig, from slaughter. Because everyone knows spiders and pigs are BFFs.
Why it’s traumatizing: Wilbur, the pig, loses his spider friend after she gives birth to a million babies and promptly dies. Maybe next time Wilbur won’t make friends with bugs.
3. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
What it’s about: A poor and friendless Polish girl named Wanda who wears a faded blue dress every day, even though she claims to own a hundred gorgeous dresses at home. Nobody believes her obvious lie and they eventually drive her out of school, because children are hateful little gremlins.
Why it’s traumatizing: It’s bad enough learning that Wanda’s mother is dead and she has to wash the same dress every night, let alone how mean her peers are to her.
4. Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
What it’s about: Flowers in the Attic features a brother and sister who are locked in the attic by their neglectful mother. They pass the time by having sex with each other and drinking blood to stay alive. Why was this in school libraries again?
Why it’s traumatizing: INCEST.
5. Goosebumps: Night of the Living Dummy by R. L. Stine
What it’s about: An evil posessed ventriloquist dummy who pulls deadly pranks, like trying to strangle the family dog to death.
Why it’s traumatizing: Most of the Goosebumps books are pretty tame, but anything with murderous dolls is inherently freaky. This book is why college kids aren’t majoring in ventriloquism. Thanks, R. L. Stine.
6. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
What it’s about: A kid and his beloved two dogs. Both dogs die, obviously, because authors love traumatizing children.
Why it’s traumatizing: Where the Red Fern Grows nestles comfortably in the “teach kids life lessons by making them cry” genre. Other books in this genre include Old Yeller and The Red Pony.
7. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
What it’s about: A toy bunny who spends the entirety of the book craving the attention of a materialistic child. Gaining the kid’s attention only briefly, he’s quickly discarded the second a better stuffed rabbit shows up. Thankfully, a fairy eventually turns the velveteen rabbit into a real rabbit.
Why it’s traumatizing: The rabbit spends pretty much the entire book being neglected and feeling lonely. Plus there’s a character named “The Skin Horse,” which is just creepy.
8. Call of the Wild by Jack London
What it’s about: A dog named Buck who gets abused a whole bunch in Canada before being adopted by a nice dude named John Thornton.
Why it’s traumatizing: Literally everybody dies. Dogs, humans, no one is safe. Jack is killed by Indians, the Indians are killed by Buck, then Buck eventually dies and becomes the Ghost Dog of the Northland Legend.
9. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
What’s it’s about: The evils of capitalism. Also trees.
Why it’s traumatizing: It’s pretty gloomy, for starters. Also the villain, named The Once-ler, is never shown. Only his skinny green arms are ever shown. This is the same guy who wrote Green Eggs and Ham, right?
10. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
What it’s about: A tree who loves a little boy so much she gives and gives and gives until she’s nothing but a stump. The kid never questions why a tree is talking to him.
Why it’s traumatizing: Depending on who you ask, the book is either about selfless love or a selfish little kid and the masochistic tree who enables him. Either way, watching the poor tree give herself away until she’s only a stump is pretty dark.
11. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
What it’s about: A group of preteen boys who crash land on a deserted island and proceed to go apeshit and kill each other.
Why it’s traumatizing: The book’s central theme that man is inherently savage and evil made for a pretty pessimistic read. Still, it gave us the phrase “Sucks to your ass-mar!” which you should work into conversation whenever possible.
12. Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak
What it’s about: A girl named Ida’s baby sister is kidnapped by goblin creatures. They leave behind an ice baby in place of the real baby and Ida has to rescue her sister.
Why it’s traumatizing: The ice baby. THE ICE BABY. Also kidnapping is sort of unsettling. Mostly that creepy ice baby.
13. “The Green Ribbon” from In a Dark, Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz
What it’s about: A girl who wears a mysterious green ribbon around her neck. She marries a boy named Alfred but refuses to talk about the ribbon. Eventually she grows ill and tells Alfred he can untie her ribbon. He does, and HER DAMN HEAD FALLS OFF.
Why it’s traumatizing: HER DAMN HEAD FALLS OFF.
14. The Giver by Lois Lowry
What it’s about: A kid named Jonas who lives in a dystopian future and who is burdened with receiving knowledge of the past — some good stuff like sunshine and rainbows, but mostly bad stuff like war and famine and probably Miley’s VMA performance.
Why it’s traumatizing: You really feel Jonas’ loss of innocence, and sort of feel like you’ve lost it yourself. In a good way. Kind of.
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