With Halloween just around the corner, research shows a third of parents (33%) would avoid reading a book to their children if it included a scary character, despite expert evidence suggesting fear is healthy for youngsters.

Book People | Reading scary books

Book People surveyed 1,003 UK parents about their attitudes towards scary children’s book characters and whether they believe that villains of the page have valuable lessons to teach their own kids.

When asked about the characters they found the most scary when they were a child, a fifth (20%) of mums and dads said that The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz gave them the shivers, closely followed by the infamous Child Catcher from Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang (17%).

Although a third of parents try to avoid exposing their own children to scary characters during story time, an overwhelming 84% agreed that ‘bad’ characters are an important part of children’s books.

More specifically, over three-quarters (78%) of parents said they felt that the baddies in fiction help children differentiate between good and evil, while around half (53%) felt that they help kids learn to cope with difficult situations and conquer fears (48%).

Their views are backed by leading psychologist Emma Kenny, who said: “There are lots of positives that can be drawn from the role of fear in children’s literature, including engaging a moral conscience, so learning to take sides with the forces of good, for example.

“Fear is something that we encounter in lots of situations, so understanding what it is and enabling a child to have a fear ‘compass’ is an equipping experience for a child.”

Commenting on the research, Claudia Mody, children’s buying director at Book People, said: “With the season of fear well upon us, it’s the time of year when we’re most likely to recall those characters that scared us as children, and perhaps still scare us as adults!

“Whether it’s the Child Catcher or Lord Voldemort, for younger readers these characters are incredibly important in developing understanding of right and wrong. Although we’re reluctant to admit it, our favourite books just wouldn’t be the same without these sinister protagonists!”

To find out more about Book People’s study and to read psychologist Emma Kenny’s full interview visit: https://www.thebookpeople.co.uk/blog/index.php/2016/08/09/the-baddest-book-characters/

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Atomik Research. Total sample size was 1,003 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th-20th June 2016. The survey was carried out online.