Young James and The Spooky Old Tree


As a very young child, one of my favorite things to do was to curl up with a picture book and lose myself in the immersive illustrations. Even when I graduated into chapter books, something about really well-done picture books captivated the imagination. The one that dominated my youngest years was The Berenstain Bears and The Spooky Old Tree. This tale of three little bears adventuring into the night to explore not just a tree but underground tunnels and alligator infested waters and haunted old halls full of watchful paintings and suits of armor, and a whole lot more. It was indeed spooky, but also thrilling and comforting at the same time. It became a bit like my security blanket.

My hard-cover copy came with a cassette tape that recited the story with (if I recall) eerie sound effects and a “wooOOooOOooOO” sound that indicated it was time to turn the page. I’d ask my parents to play it over and over again, I was obsessed, and there was a time when their only working cassette player was the one in the car, so they’d bring me outside and sit there with me as I delved into the adventure toward the spooky old tree yet again. This memory may explain why I love old scary radio shows so much, as well as audiobooks and podcasts about eerie stories that are both true and fictional.


There was another Berenstain Bears book called Bears In the Night that was similar, a bunch of bears sneaking out the window one by one to go through the forest to the top of spook hill only to get scared and race home, and fun as that was, it didn’t have the impact of that adventure toward the gnarled old tree with the rounded snoot and clawing limbs. The book was so popular they even made it into a board game, which I might have owned as well but I don’t remember. Needless to say, I miss that old book, so it’s my ambition to find a copy with a working cassette tape, get myself some snacks, and pull the blankets over my head on a cold November day with a flashlight in hand. And like that, I will press play and edge into the night once more. Why not? There is no right or wrong age to celebrate the joys of our youth, or the chills.