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Fear Street: Author R.L. Stine on finding a new generation to terrify

The horror author talks Fear Street on Netflix and how podcasts can improve children's literacy.

For children's horror author R.L. Stine, nothing beats scaring the hell out of kids. In the '90s, he chilled a generation with his Goosebumps and Fear Street books, but these days, the scares come in podcasts.

Fear Street trilogy Netflix

The Fear Street trilogy hits Netflix in July.

Netflix

Stine's old books are still finding new life as they continue being adapted for the big and small screens more than 30 years after being published: the original Goosebumps TV series in the '90s, two new movies starring Jack Black in the late 2010s and a three-part movie series based on his Fear Street books coming to Netflix in July.

"I think readers of those books are gonna be in for a shock with the movies, because the movies are R rated," Stine told me. "There's a lot of screaming. A lot of kids die."

The R-rated Fear Street trilogy will drop across three consecutive weeks. Fear Street Part One: 1994 debuted on July 2. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 will debut on July 9 and Fear Street Part Three: 1666 on July 16. They'll show 300 years of brutal murders in one small town called Shadyside, set in high school in the '90s and Camp Nightwing in the '70s, before going back to the origins of the curse in the 1600s.

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"My involvement consisted of going down to the set one day, and watching them film a scene out in a pasture in Atlanta where it was 120 degrees and with Atlanta humidity," Stine said. "They built a colonial village, an amazing entire village with pigs running around, and I spent one day on the set, watching them film."

The movies were originally filmed for Fox, but COVID-19 put an end to those plans as theaters closed. Then Netflix entered the picture, enabling the three movies to be released across three consecutive weeks. "This is movie watching -- three movies, three weeks in a row. That's kind of fun," Stine said. 

Podcast series raises literacy among kids glued to screens

These days, Stine is writing episodes for GoKidGo, a podcast universe started by fellow children's author Patrick Carman. Born out of COVID-19, the podcasts tapped into ways to spark kids' imaginations in a world where technology, screens and short attention spans dominate.

R L Stine

RL Stine is writing for podcasts now.

GoKidGo

Carman, whose children's books include The Dark Hills Divide and the Atherton trilogy, founded GoKidGo alongside entrepreneur Jennifer Clary and producer Maia Glikman. While the pandemic didn't change Stine's lifestyle -- "I was always home all day writing," he says -- for Carman, it put an end to his usual book tours of schools across the nation to promote reading in children.

"I was trying to figure out how can I help kids get off screens and want to read," Carman said. "Even pre-COVID, kids were spending about four hours a day on screens, on average. With COVID, it was up to between six and eight hours a day, and [Stine] and I both know that this has a lot of adverse effects, dropping reading scores dramatically."

Studies have found that children who cannot read at a third grade level by the end of the third grade are four times more likely drop out of high school.

So how will podcasts help improve children's literacy? In an era when children and adults are constantly multitasking, podcasts serve as a bridge to the imagination.

"They're almost all the way to a book," Carman explained. "All the things that go to work in your brain to get you in the same space mentally as you would be for reading, they're all firing ... all the action is happening in your own mind, and that's the same in both the podcasts and books."

Kids can continue playing while listening to the episodes, with the podcasts also delivered in bite-sized 15-minute chunks.

For now, GoKidGo consists of three shows: Bobby Wonder, Lucy Wow and R.L. Stine's Story Club. Stine's episodes are like a shorter, audiobook version of Goosebumps -- faintly horrifying tales with twist endings that'll keep kids on the edge of their seats. The episodes are billed as coming from the vault of R.L. Stine.

"I think the podcasts, the stories, encourage kids to get to go out and buy the book," Stine added. "I always found that was true with television. Anytime you're in some other media, it encourages kids to go and buy the books as well."

COVID also helped Carman sign actors onto his podcast projects, because with productions shut down, they were all out of work. "We've never met, other than via Zoom," he said. "This entire company has been built without ever actually meeting in person."

Lucy Wow podcast GoKidGo
GoKidGo

The GoKidGo podcasts launched on May 3, and are right now in the top 0.01% of fastest-growing kids' and family podcasts on the Apple chart. Carman expects listenership to grow -- there aren't many kids' narrative storytelling podcasts yet, and parents are now "waking up to the idea" of too much screen time.

"We never, ever want to make parents feel bad about that," he said. "Once you open that Pandora's Box, you put an iPad into an 8-year-old's hand, it is just a very challenging thing to get them to stop using it. But they're looking for ways to augment that, for their kids to do something other than be on a screen."

The GoKidGo podcasts are free on Spotify, Apple Music and all major podcast platforms.