I was brought up on scary stories. I didn't think of them as scary at the time. They were words read out to me and they were fun.
I adored the stories in StruwwelPeter by Heinrich Hoffman. 'The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches' didn't scare me, but it certainly taught me not to play with fire. I loved 'The Story of the Man Who Went Out Shooting' - I think I've always been on the side of the animals - and 'The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb' with the long, red-legged scissor man's scissors going Snip! Snap! Snip! was wonderful. Even Augustus, who wouldn't have any soup and faded away completely, was just a story to me.
Then there were Grimm's fairy tales with all their stories of abduction, poisonings and evil people.
But is it just the old stories that are the culprits? What about J.K.Rowling's 'Tales of Beedle the Bard', particularly 'The Warlock's Hairy Heart'? It has to rank as one of the goriest fairy tales I have read.
There are picture books that pack a punch. My own, for example. Mrs MacCready blows up at the end of my tale (sorry if I've spoilt the surprise!) and Giles Paley-Phillip's 'Fearsome Beastie' is not named as such for no reason. I could create a much longer list.
I believe children like to be scared - when they are in a safe situation. We don't credit them with the understanding they possess. They know stories are just that, words on a page. They can find the lesson that may be present within those words. My point is this : these stories can be used to help children understand the world around them. They can talk about issues in a controlled environment where appropriate. I know I've done that with classes in my past as a teacher. Much better out in the open than festering inside a child's mind.
Children see things on TV and in films that can worry them far more. What about Dr Who, the witch in Will O' The Wisp, Chocky, The Demon Headmaster? Where do we draw the line at 'scary'?
Perhaps the bottom line is this - you know your child. You are the best judge of what will scare them too much. Maybe there are a few children who will be genuinely scared by some of these tales, but personally I believe most won't - and what a rich heritage of story-telling to miss out on!