I don’t know about you all, but I was a creepy kid. I loved scary/creepy books when I was young. I still do, to a point. That’s why I’m writing this article. From the mildly creepy, to the downright scary stories, I’m going to list some of my recommendations. Whether you’re looking to spook your little ones around Halloween, have a kid who likes such things, or want to read it yourself, here’s some children’s books to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
Anything Written by Eva Ibboston
Ah, Eva Ibboston, may you rest in peace. I cannot stress enough how much nostalgia I have for these books. They were just so good. Not all the ones listed are incredibly creepy, and in the context of the rest of this article, the books are bit tame. I like the off-beat humor, and the world building that Ibboston brings us. For a child some of these concepts are rather creepy, especially the ones in Which Witch? and Dial-A-Ghost. I highly, highly recommend these books for both adults and children.
Goosebumps books were a staple for a lot of kids when they first came out. Even now, they still remain fairly popular. Why? Because a lot of the monsters and concepts are timeless, and scare us still. Plus all that campy goodness.
Goosebumps plays with horror tropes in a way that is fun and can keep children on edge. I was never seriously scared while reading one, but I know plenty of people who were. It’s full of jump scares, and mildly creepy concepts. Goosebumps is a fairly easy read, and I recommended if you or your child like mixing your horror with 90’s cheese.
Much in the same vein as Goosebumps, American Chillers is 90’s camp at its finest. The book titles always use alliteration, and center around a mythical monster/creepy animal. It’s not a particularly long read, and it’s a lot of fun.
I loved Bunnicula as a kid. I have always been a big fan of vampire stories (yes, I know, shame on me. How very cliche of TheGrandHighMarySue.) It was a form of vampire literature that hadn’t been done much up to that point. It’s cute, it has a decent amount of suspense for a kid’s book. The book is also less than a hundred pages long, for those who would like to read a short book.
Bruce Coville Books
Both series I’ve read by this author (The Magic Shop books and My Teacher is an Alien) are funny, while having some creepy/scary elements to them. My Teacher is an Alien is more irreverent tonally, and is much like Goosebumps and American Chillers.
The Skull of Truth was more serious, and was very enjoyable despite that. The main character interacts with a skull throughout the book and it’s presence makes it so he must always tell the truth. It causes some awkward moments, as well as heartwarming ones. I recommend both series for adults and kids alike.
Now we’re getting to the disturbing stuff. Coraline has gotten more hype since it’s movie release, but is still a rather underrated book. There is a lot of disturbing imagery and concepts in Coraline. The atmosphere is very spooky, and the resolution to the story is great. I recommend it for children who are in upper elementary or higher.
I personally never found The Witches that scary. Apparently I’m in the minority on that. Roald Dahl seems to have a thoroughly middling effect on most readers. Some readers really like the tone and word-building, others hate it. The Witches is well-known but not always well liked, since there were accusations of “perceived misogyny” in his work.
The movie of the same name actually has a happier ending than the book. So read it if you like, and let me know what you thought of it.
In a Dark, Dark Room and other Scary Stories
This is an anthology of different ghost stories and some poems. A lot of the stories are classic horror fare, like the ghostly hitchhiker. It’s not incredibly scary, but it is a good introduction to scary stories for young audiences.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
I loved this series. The books are about as dreary as one would expect, with a name like A Series of Unfortunate Events. Despite the tone, these books are actually fun. There is some dry humor, and young readers will feel clever for understanding the vocabulary (and even if they don’t, they will certainly learn a lot of vocabulary while reading the series.)
There are a lot of interesting settings in the book, and Count Olaf’s schemes to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune get more and more ridiculous as the series goes on. It’s very entertaining, though I understand the tone and content might not be for everyone.
Oh, and bonus. Timmy Curry is the voice actor for the audiobook series.
The House called Awful End
This book series had a very interesting sense of humor. The premise that starts the ball rolling is sort of funny, and things get worse and worse for poor Eddie as the series goes on. It’s similar in tone to A Series of Unfortunate Events. The Eddie Dickens Trilogy is a little simpler and could be read to younger children.
Never Trust a Dead Man
I vaguely recalled reading this book in junior high. And the premise is creepy. It starts off with a murder. Our main character Selwyn was competing with a fellow teen boy Farold for the love interest. When Farold turns up dead with Selwyn’s knife in his back, the village passes sentence on Selywn. Even though he is innocent of the crime, he is trapped in a tomb with the bodies of the dead, including Farold’s corpse.
A witch comes in to the caves to get dead bits from the corpses and Selwyn swears himself to her service in exchange for her magical help. She revives Farold’s soul in the form of a bat and they try to solve the murder. It’s a really fun mystery, and has a really creepy tone. I recommend this series for kids and adults.
Scary Stories to tell in the Dark
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is one of the best kid’s horror books of all time, in my opinion. Why? Because it can still give me the heebie jeebies now. As an adult. A lot of these stories were based on tall tales or urban legends.
And if the content wasn’t enough, the illustrations are also incredibly creepy. A lot of the faces look like they belong in The Hills have Eyes. If you get this book, get the original copies. The new illustrations are tame and take away some of the punch of the first edition.
The Ghost and Mrs. Hobbs , The Ghost of Fossil Glen
Both of these ghost stories had me on the edge of my seat when I was reading them back in the day. They are well-paced, and the books maintain a creepy and suspenseful atmosphere throughout. The mysteries are good and the themes they touch on are good. I recommend these books for all ages.
The Dollhouse Murders
This book scared the hell out of me. I never owned a dollhouse, but I’m sure if I did I would have tossed it out after this book. Our protagonist finds an old dollhouse in the attic and discovers that it used to belong to her aunt.
After hearing sounds from the attic for awhile, the protagonist discovers that the dolls in the dollhouse reenact a scene every night. The grizzly murder that occured in the house years earlier, of which there were only two survivors.
The book will be scary to adult and children, though for different reasons. I highly recommend this book. I also highly recommend sleeping with the light on afterwards.
Wait Till Helen Comes
Wait Till Helen Comes touches on many troubling subjects, least of which is the ghost. The book centers on our main character Molly, and her struggles to accept her new step-sister Heather. With their parents recently married, and the family relocating, this book captures what a struggle sudden upheaval can be for children.
While the ghost elements can be scary, most of the drama and suspense are found in the real-life troubles that are going on in Molly and Heather’s life.
And a bonus:
Edgar Allen Poe
I was a weird kid. Yeah, in fourth grade I was tested, and I had a higher reading level than many of my peers. I was incredibly proud of it, and so I spent more and more time reading, trying to do even better. I really enjoyed Poe. My personal favorite was The Fall of the House of Usher. This might be a little beyond some children’s reading level, but it’s worth a try.
Or you can let them wait until high school, since it’s highly likely they’ll have to read some of Poe’s work, one way or another.
Alright hat was all I could think of. Let me know in the comments if you have a book I didn’t list that you’d like mentioned. Thanks!