By GLENN TOLLE
I’ve always loved what I like to call “the slow creep of dread from page to page trope” (also known as SCDPPT) in children’s horror fiction. This trope is found in many suspenseful books for young readers, including DARK, DARK HOUSE by Jennifer Dussling, illustrated by Davy Jones; IN A DARK, DARK WOOD by David A. Carter; A DARK, DARK TALE by Ruth Brown; and in the book I’m focusing on for this installment: THE HAUNTED HOUSE by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrated by Peter Lippman (published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc. in 1970).
There are two main elements to the traditional SCDPPT trope found in THE HAUNTED HOUSE (and others like it). The first is repetition, which mainly functions to build a sense of dread. With each reiteration, be it haunted house, old house, creepy woods, the reader becomes more anxious, bracing themselves for the final page where, and this is the second element, the suspect – in the form of a monster or ghost – is waiting. Sometimes the monster or ghost is revealed to be a mouse or some other mischievous inhabitant of spooky places, but at others the genuine article makes an appearance, giving the reader (in the event that the story is being read out loud) a not-to-be-missed opportunity to scare the audience.
Martin’s THE HAUNTED HOUSE features a melding of these two possible outcomes. There really is a monster at the end of the book, but in contrast to the scary place he lives in, he is decidedly not scary and rather fluffy and cute. This doesn’t stop the book from being scary, however.
I really enjoyed this little book when I first read it three years ago. I ran across it on the web and, not long after, found it in a used book store that was in the process of closing up. That same day I read it in full (which only takes a few minutes) and was pleasantly surprised with its slightly novel end. What’s more, I loved the eerie illustrations and the unique way the books text was utilized. I enjoyed these same elements after rereading THE HAUNTED HOUSE for this article. I’ve read many versions of this trope in many books and, so far, this version executed by Bill Martin, Jr. and Peter Lippman is my favourite. If you get a chance, grab a copy of this book for you and or your child’s book shelf. It’s spooky, kooky and cute.