Readers who grew up in the early-mid ’90s loving monsters and all things macabre often cite R.L. Stine as one of their favorite childhood authors. But even before Mr. Stine cranked out Goosebumps month after month, there was good ol’ Bruce Coville. If that name evokes nostalgic memories of cozy reads from ages ago, you’re not alone. I feel he’s been kind of forgotten over the course of time, so today, on the eve of October, I’d like to cast the spotlight on the author largely responsible for introducing me (and many others) back in the early ’90s to the fascinating world of sci-fi. His all-around strange stories were often times bewitching and mystifying. Without further ado, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at some of his most memorable work.
MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN SERIES
Before Covid-19, there was “Coville-89″ (sorry). Bruce Coville had some other work published prior, but I feel it was really My Teacher Is An Alien, published in the summer of 1989, that put Bruce on the map. At the time I was only six, so I was too young to read it. But I remember my brother, two years my senior, reading it in the fall of ’89. Even though the book was clearly beyond my reading level at the time, the cover haunted me for years. Coville wrote 3 sequels, and you couldn’t help but spot them everywhere throughout the early ’90s. They were an absolute hit series with kids before Stine released his first Goosebumps book, Welcome to Dead House, in the summer of ’92.
I ran across these bad boys at a second hand bookstore in 2019 and was greeted by a tidal wave of nostalgia. It was like stepping into a time machine and remembering that warm feeling of entering a classroom only to find the latest Scholastic book order buys waiting for you, sitting pretty on your desk. In some ways, it was like a mini Christmas morning.
Let’s talk about the art! They had a very distinct sci-fi flair that never left me. If I close my eyes, I can still see them as though they were right in front of my face.
Looks like a dinner date with the Grinch and SpongeBob SquarePants! There was always a fantastical element to the illustrations found in Coville’s books that did well to transport you to a different planet.
They were also a bit creepy! Stuff like this stays with you for a lifetime…
Credit John Pierard for these imaginative and provocative illustrations! Later works would be illustrated by Coville’s wife, Katherine, although Pierard would pop back in here and there. Both did an amazing job accentuating Bruce’s madcap stories.
If it wasn’t already readily apparent that Bruce was obsessed with aliens, the fall of 1993 provided further confirmation with the release of Aliens Ate My Homework. This was a brand new series with new characters. You gotta love the artwork on those covers. Super ’90s! With, dare I say it, a hint of Lisa Frank but for boys.
That age-old excuse “My dog ate my homework” was a huge line in the early ’90s, even though it originated many decades prior. So it was brilliant that Mr. Coville would adopt and modify it to Aliens Ate My Homework. It was an easy and instant gateway to another quadrilogy of zany sci-fi shenanigans.
The artwork really added a lot of life to the books and made them even more fun to read.
I remember some of the illustrations were pretty creepy and gave me the heebie-jeebies!
The most disturbing thing about this picture is probably the adult diaper that the alien is wearing. There was definitely some legit “nightmare fuel” in some of the artwork.
When the pictures weren’t mentally deranged, they took on a delightful and whimsical feel. Very adventurous, indeed.
Looking back on it, the art in Coville’s books was truly amazing. The kind of stuff that any 10 year old kid would eat up.
You can almost hear the crickets chirping the night away. You can almost feel that warm gentle summer breeze lightly brushing the back of your neck.
Bruce Coville’s books always did a great job of capturing that magical mix of blending whimsical adventures with just the right amount of creepiness and heart.
THE MAGIC SHOP SERIES
My Teacher Is An Alien wasn’t the only Bruce Coville book to hit stores back in the summer of 1989. The Monster’s Ring kicked off yet another quadrilogy for Mr. Coville. They weren’t as well known as his two aforementioned series, but they were still a blast.
I love the depiction of the old shopkeeper. Decrepit and slightly hunched over, he’s smaller than even the kid. He’s definitely seen a thing or two. Who knows what skeletons are hiding in his closet…
Michael J. Fox and 1985 called — they want Teen Wolf back!
CAMP HAUNTED HILLS
The first in the Camp Haunted Hills trilogy, How I Survived My Summer Vacation, was published in the summer of 1988 (a full year before even My Teacher Is An Alien). This was followed by Some of My Best Friends Are Monsters in 1989 and The Dinosaur That Followed Me Home in 1990. Monster of the Year is a standalone, but I had to throw it in there as it’s classic Coville. You could always count on him to conjure up stories of monsters and the macabre.
MONSTERS, ALIENS, GHOSTS — OH MY!
Beginning in September of 1993, Bruce Coville released the first anthology in a longstanding spooky series that would span 12 volumes. The first was called Bruce Coville’s Book of Monsters: Tales To Give You The Creeps. Coville curated various selections from different authors, ranging from veteran horror writers such as Joe R. Lansdale and Al Sarrantonio to beloved authors Jane Yolen and Jack Prelutsky. Of course, Coville made sure to include 3 of his own stories in this collection of 13 chilling tales. It was a no-brainer day 1 buy for me, and I must have read my well worn copy 50 times over. I haven’t read it in damn close to 30 years, so I’m not sure how well it holds up, but I certainly endeavor to find out one day soon.
It covered everything: monsters, aliens, ghosts, nightmares, magic and spine tinglers. The 12th and final volume, Bruce Coville’s Book of Magic II: More Tales To Cast A Spell On You, was published in the summer of 1997. I fell out of reading by then, and I have only ever read the first books in the Monsters and Aliens edition. So I have a lot of catching up to do! I’m looking forward to it.
I love how the sequel’s cover sees a role reversal. Callbacks and clever changes like such always score high in my book, no pun intended.
I quickly snatched up Bruce Coville’s Book of Aliens: Tales To Warp Your Mind when it came out in February of 1994. The cover art is just so badass. The color scheme, the huge bulky alien creatures, and the look of fear etched on the boy’s face as he knows danger is lurking right behind him… it hits all the feels! The sequel’s cover art — not so much.
Really digging that wavy font on the GHOSTS portion of the title. Also enjoy the feature story of each volume being highlighted in a nice sleek yellow box. They definitely nailed down the aesthetics.
Spine Tinglers, eh? I see we’re starting to run out of ideas but no matter. I’m still a sucker and will always be down for a mutant spider story!
I’m not sure what the difference is between Nightmares and Spine Tinglers, but the more the merrier! That skeleton there does 1980s Zebra horror paperbacks and Ruby Jean Jensen proud.
As if we haven’t jumped the shark already, here comes the Magic editions. These are probably more fantasy-based rather than horror-based, but I had to buy them anyway. Like I said, I’m a sucker.
PAINT ME A PICTURE
Like most Coville books, these anthologies had some really neat artwork. Since I read the first volume numerous times as a child, a lot of the images are burned in my mind. Just very spooky, eerie and imaginative illustrations that captivates as well as creep out…
Although R.L. Stine stole much of his thunder, Bruce Coville was always one of my favorite writers when I was growing up in the early-mid ’90s. His writing was a bit more sophisticated than Stine’s. They’re quite different actually, if memory serves me right. Coville cranked out a number of memorable series and books. I haven’t read any of his works in close to 30 years, so I’m not entirely sure how well they hold up today. But his stuff will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s so wonderfully nostalgic and a reminder of a simpler time in my life. My favorite of his is the Book of anthology series. I’ve only read 2 of the 12, so there’s no telling how good (or bad) the other 10 are. But that’s all part of the fun when you get a chance to watch, play, listen to, or in this case read stuff you missed out on back in the day.
Bruce Coville is thankfully still alive as of this writing. In the unlikely chance that Bruce sees this… I just want to say thanks for all the fun and spooky memories. I hope you come out with one last final Book of volume. It would be entry #13. A fitting number, indeed. But I already know what you would say. “Actually, I did write a volume #13 but alas… the aliens ate it.” Touché, Bruce. Touché.