Book Club: The Scary States of America

This was the first-place pick after we voted for new books last month. The kids really enjoyed reading it, and the short story format was good for our club, where we have a wide range of reading abilities. This way, kids who are not as comfortable reading were still able to participate when we discussed the stories they read.

The activity for this book club was a lot of fun. Everyone enjoyed telling scary stories – I wasn’t sure how well it would work, but some of our less talkative club members spoke up to tell spooky stories they remembered from friends, family, and other books. We dimmed the lights, passed around a flashlight, and scared all of our friends – it was a great way to spend an afternoon.

The Scary States of America, by Michael Teitelbaum

Discussion Questions

1. What was your favorite story? What was the scariest story?

2. Did you think any of the stories were really scary? If you did, what made them scary? Why are scary stories so much fun to read?

3. Did you think the stories were believable? What made you think that the stories were (or weren’t!) true? Are true stories scarier than made-up stories?

4. Has anything scary ever happened to you? Has anyone ever told you a true scary story?

5. How was this book different from the other books we read? Were there still characters in this book? Were there plots you remembered? Do you like reading short stories better than reading longer novels?


Write your own scary story! We’ll work alone or in pairs (your choice) to write scary stories. They can be based off of stories in the book, things you’ve heard from friends or read in other books, or they can be totally new. We’ll have a bunch of other scary story books that you can look at for inspiration. Then we’ll have a “campfire” and tell our stories out loud.

For the record: I thought this would be really tough, because I have some pretty shy kids in book club. NOPE. They loved this activity. We ended up staying late, and they would’ve stayed even later. I guess I forgot how much kids love scaring each other.

Some games to try at home…
from John Sanidopoulos

Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board

The most common version of this “trick” requires at least five people. One person, the victim, lies relaxed on the floor with eyes closed. The other four participants surround her, one on each side, one at the head and one at the feet. Each of the participants places two fingers of each hand beneath the victim. With their eyes closed, they begin to chant, “Light as a feather… stiff as a board…” over and over. With just the slightest effort, the participants are able to raise the victim off the floor in what appears to be the defiance of gravity.

Does it work? In addition to my sister, I’ve heard from a number of other people who attest that it does. I have never witnessed it personally.

Bloody Mary

The conjuring of Bloody Mary has been a favorite way for teenagers, girls in particular, to scare themselves silly. The appearance of the Bloody Mary spirit has become the stuff of urban legend, yet many have testified that she really does appear.

Basically, the ritual goes like this: stand in a darkened or lightless room where there is a mirror. Stare into the mirror and chant “Bloody Mary” 13 times. The gruesome spirit of Bloody Mary will appear behind you in the mirror.

There are many variations on the ritual, any of which a brave teenage girl will try, usually on a dare. Sometimes a lighted candle is required in the dark room. You must chant the name three times, six times, nine times – even up to 100 times, depending on whom you ask. Another variation is that you must spin slowly in place while you chant Bloody Mary’s name, glancing in the mirror with each turn.

Although the biggest worry with Bloody Mary is that the participant will succeed in scaring herself into hysterics, we occasionally hear stories about people who really did see Bloody Mary in the mirror. Usually these tales come through a friend of a friend and are, of course, impossible to verify.

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