Tis the season for all things scary, so we’ve rounded up a collection of books that’ll have your kid double-checking that their night-light is plugged in. You’ve been waiting for this moment—for them to get to an age where you can share spookiness rather than the silliness of Halloween. It’s not only about candy and cute costumes anymore, it’s about foggy graveyards, mythical monsters and unsettling stories that are meant to thrill and chill. If you want to bond with your child over some mildly macabre books this October, we’ve got you covered. Some of these books are so classic that you might have even read them when you were a kid, but as they say, they’re classics for a reason. This might even give you an opportunity to revisit your childhood and remember what it was like to read these books the first time around. It’ll be fun to take a trip down memory lane and perhaps you’ll establish some new traditions with your kids!
Although it came out in 1984, this collection of short stories has some scary staying power. Schwartz rewrote classic folklore and scary tales that even put adults on edge, like the girl with the green ribbon, for children. It features reanimated corpses, skeletons, ghosts and other things you wouldn’t want to run into late at night. In his foreword to the book, Schwartz insists that these stories are meant to be read out loud—and perhaps, in the dark—so practice your voices, you’ll need some spooky ones for this book.
The first book in the Lewis Barnavelt series is a great gateway into the horror genre. Filled with illustrations by the famous illustrator Edward Gorey, The House with a Clock in Its Walls follows a young orphan named Lewis as he moves into his uncle’s old house and learns all about magic. This tale isn’t quite as heartwarming as Harry Potter, though. Lewis learns that there’s evil lurking in his uncle’s house in the form of a ticking clock left behind by the house’s previous owners. If you read this book with your child, you might still be able to catch its movie adaptation in theaters before Halloween.
Graveyards are even spooky for adults, so naturally it’s the setting for Neil Gaiman’s book for kids. The Graveyard Book is about—you guessed it—a kid named Bod who was raised in the graveyard by ghosts and werewolves. He has to choose whether he wants to continue facing otherworldly terrors in the graveyard or to journey outside of the graveyard and come in contact with the man who killed his family. This book is best for kids who are 10 years old and older.
You can’t have a scary book list without including R. L. Stine. There are more than 230 of his children’s horror books now, but his first one can still send chills down your spine. There’s no inanimate object more terrifying than a ventriloquist dummy. Twins Lindy and Kris find a dummy in the dumpster, and Lindy names it Slappy. Terrible things begin to happen, and the twins begin to wonder if Slappy is the one pulling the strings. The series is called Goosebumps for a reason.
If you and your children have already tackled In a Dark, Dark Room and are looking for more Schwartz, check out Schwartz’s series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. There are three volumes worth of terrifying tales full of corpses, ghosts and haunted houses. If the stories weren’t spooky enough already, Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are nightmare-fuel.
After reading The Witches, your child will never look at women wearing gloves the same way again. The boy’s grandmother has been preparing him for encounters with witches his entire life, but she never expected him to stumble a whole convention of them. The witches gathered in England under the guise of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children conference, but in fact they’re planning an attack that will exterminate children. This dark, droll book is a fun read for young reader during any season, but especially around Halloween.
Parents who love poetry will love this collection of scary poems by Jack Prelutsky. Prelutsky has written more than 50 books of poetry for children that range widely in subject matter, but his poems that are meant to frighten are a whole lot of fun. This book of poems features 12 poems and 12 creepy illustrations. If you and your child enjoy this quick read, Prelutsky’s Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep is another book of poems you should check out.
When Coraline discovers the mysterious room in her house leads to another house that’s nearly identical to her own, she decides to stay for a while. It’s better than her own house, and so are the parents who live there. Everything naturally takes a dark turn when they don’t want her to leave, and Coraline has to use all of her wits to escape back to her old life. This book twists and turns in ways that you might not even expect. There’s also a graphic novel option if you’d like to supplement your reading with images and amp up the horror.
The Twits are the grossest and most terrible people you’ll ever eat. They’re mostly concerned with trapping birds to make into bird pies, playing horrible tricks on each other and making the Muggle-Wumps stand on their heads all day. The Muggle-Wumps have decided to take their revenge. This book is ideal if you don’t want your kid to be up with nightmares all night and you want to introduce them to Roald Dahl. It’s not so much scary as dark, and your young child will find the tricks the Twits play on each other hilarious.
Two Irish orphan siblings, Kip and Molly, find jobs as servants at a massive and creepy mansion near an ugly tree for a pale, sickly family. It seems all right at first, but when Molly discovers a painting of the family appearing healthy the year before, she’s startled. She starts to wonder what changed them and if that has anything to do with the mysterious muddy footprints that appear in the hall at night. This fantasy horror story mixes magic and horror perfectly.