R.L. Stine's Twitter bio simply reads, “My job: to terrify kids." Over the course of his decades-long career, Stine has published over 400 spooky books for tweens, teens, and even adults. During the height of the Goosebumps craze in the '90s, Forbes estimated he made $41 million in one year alone.
But who is the brain behind the ‘Bumps? Where does he get his ideas? And what scares the author often called the "Stephen King for kids"? If you grew up in the '90s and miss going to the Scholastic book fair every year, enjoy this nice nostalgia trip through your childhood nightmares.
And if you'd like a refresher on what those classic Goosebumps book covers looked like, vote up your favorites here.
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‘Goosebumps’ Was In The Top 20 Most Frequently Challenged Books Of 1990-1999
According to the American Library Association, the Goosebumps series was ranked #15 of the 100 most frequently challenged books in the ‘90s. This means people tried banning R.L. Stine’s tween horror more times than Madonna's Sex, Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho, and several books by Stephen King. At the top of the list is the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, written by Alvin Schwartz.
In the book You Can't Say That!, Stine recalled watching a school hearing about an attempted ban that was broadcast, in which a single father defended the books:
He said that he did not want his daughter to grow up to be like him, that he wanted her to be a reader, and that because she wanted to read the Goosebumps books, he wanted those books to remain available at the school library. I cried when I heard that. It was an amazing moment. The school board voted to keep the books.
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Several ‘Goosebumps’ Books Were Never Released
When R.L. Stine's contract with Scholastic wasn't renewed, several of the planned books in his Goosebumps 2000 series were canceled: The Incredible Shrinking Fifth Grader (for which Tim Jacobus had already finished painting the cover) and When The Snake Bites. Stine confirmed The Incredible Shrinking Fifth Grader later became The Adventures of Shrinkman.
There was also an entire Goosebumps series planned (though never written or published) called Goosebumps Gold. Jacobus created the covers for two of them, a sequel to The Haunted Mask called The Haunted Mask Lives! and a sequel to Welcome to Dead House called Happy Holidays from Dead House.
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Stine Answers Every Letter A Child Sends Him
Stine's philosophy on fan mail is “[e]very kid gets an answer” because handwriting a letter (not an email) is “hard for kids.”
Over the years, he's shared some of these letters with fans:
Dear R.L. Stine: I like your Goosebumps books. I hope you make a lot more books, and if you die, tell a family member to finish them.
Dear R.L. Stine, you are my second-favorite author.
But his all-time favorite is:
Dear R.L. Stine, I've read 40 of your books, and I think they're really boring.
When he was first starting out as a horror writer, Stine found one fan letter “so scary,” he notified the writer's teacher. It read:
Dear R.L. Stine, I loved The Babysitter. The same thing happened to me, only it was my uncle who tried to kill me. Keep up the good work.
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After All His Success, Stine Has A Few Favorite Achievements
Stine has many accomplishments to be proud of. Goosebumps has spawned a number-one TV show, two feature films, video games, comic books, board games, puzzles, and even a musical based on Phantom of the Auditorium. It even gave us Goosebumps HorrorLand Fright Show and FunHouse, which opened up in Disney World's MGM Studios in 1997. Of the attraction, Stine said:
I'm a big Disney person…We had a live show that went on eight times a day with puppets and special effects. And we had a huge store behind it with a hall of mirrors... To have my own land, that was amazing.
But the thing he's most proud of? Getting boys to read. He even wants that on his tombstone. The audience for Goosebumps was equally split between boys and girls, which was rare up until that point. Stine said:
The nicest thing about Goosebumps, the nicest thing for me, is all the parents who come up to me and say, “My kids never read before until they discovered Goosebumps.” That’s the real satisfying thing to me.
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Tim Jacobus created the cover art for 60 of the first 62 Goosebumps books and perfectly captured Stine's balance of humor and horror. His signature style included bright colors and Converse shoes. He even included caricatures of his family and himself in some of the drawings.
Stine would send him a small description of each book before it was written, and using that as a jumping-off point, Jacobus would come up with ideas for each painting. Stine claims Jacobus “got it right every time but once." He said:
[Say Cheese and Die!] was about an evil camera… [Jacobus] sent in a painting of skeletons barbecuing, [and] it had nothing to do with the book... My editor called me and said, “Bob, could you add a scene of skeletons barbecuing?”
Stine ultimately added a dream sequence so that the cover made sense.
Publishers asked Jacobus to change one of the cover paintings for fear of “blowback from teachers or moms or parents.” In his original print for Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes, one of the gnomes was picking his nose. Jacobus changed it so that he was scratching his head instead.
The original cover for Fright Camp would have depicted a 12-year-old camper in an electric chair, but publishers decided it would be “too shocking.”
You may remember the '90s Goosebumps TV show, but did you know there was almost a movie, too? When Goosebumps was still at the of its popularity, Tim Burton was attached to produce an adaptation, but no one could figure out what books to use in the story. Stine said:
I thought, “Oh, that'll be great. Tim Burton and Goosebumps. It'll be great.” And we had a nice meeting with him, and we had a great time and we talked about what we should do, and then nothing happened.
In 2015, a Goosebumps movie was finally released, with Jack Black starring as a “more sinister” R.L. Stine. A sequel, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, came out in 2018. Despite having very little to do with the films, Stine is “very proud of both movies.”