Children's desire for a frisson of fear has made RL Stine, author of the Goosebumps series, the most borrowed author of last year, according to new library figures.
Stine's books - junior versions of the American Point Horror series - account for 15 of the 20 most popular library books in 1997-98, according to the latest Public Lending Right children's fiction chart.
Apart from Jill Murphy's A Quiet Night In (Walker) at number 3, Goosebumps stories fill the top 12 places. The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight at number 2 and It Came From Beneath the Sink! at number 5 are typical of the titles, aimed at seven to 10-year-olds.
Roald Dahl is the only other author whose individual titles squeeze into the top 20. He also emerges as fourth most borrowed author, just ahead of Enid Blyton and Dick King-Smith.
The PLR top 20 concentrates on the younger end of the primary range, perhaps the point at which children are likely to borrow a book more than once: hence the absence of big-name authors who have a more mixed readership such as Philip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo and Anne Fine.
The titles list is dominated by books for independent readers, especially those that will be chosen without adult supervision. The popularity of Stine's variations on the "something nasty in the woodshed" theme suggest that the appetite for easy-read fiction starts early.
Adults seem no more inclined to head for the literary fiction shelves. Historical romance and crime dominate the adult fiction titles' top 20, with Catherine Cookson novels in the top eight places.
The PLR issues a separate chart for most borrowed classic authors (both adult and children's), with children's authors at number 1 (Beatrix Potter) and number 3 (A A Milne).
The number of children's books borrowed as a percentage of all library loans has increased by around 20 per cent over the past decade.
In 1988-89, children's titles represented 21.7 per cent of loans; in 1997-98, the figure was 28.2 per cent. The proportion of non-fiction borrowed by children has increased slightly since 1988-89 when it accounted for 19.3 per cent of children's loans.
Goosebumps, RLStine's junior versions of the American Point Horror series, account for 15 of the 20 most popular children's books at public libraries. Beatrix Potter is the top 'classic' author.