The Scary Stories to Read in the Dark movie comes out today, and I’m expecting it to be VERY popular.
Why? Because the book has been constantly checked out since May!
Some kids are REALLY into horror books, but it can be difficult to find properly spooky children’s and tween books. The Scary Stories series is probably the best, especially if you get the edition with the classic illustrations by Stephen Gammell. However, there’s some other great options for kids who really need more scary books to read.
Older teens could possible try out adult horror books (Stephen King, Anne Rice, etc.) but younger kids might not be ready for QUITE that level of horror yet. That’s where this list comes into play!
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Here’s a reading list of 15 books for readers in grades 3-8, with varying levels of scary. Some are straight-up horror, some have horror elements as part of a larger story, and some just have creepy monsters or spooky situations. ALL are enjoyable books and well worth checking out!
Spooky stories for kids (ages 8-12)
Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp. Emily was a hateful child who died before her thirteenth birthday, years and years ago. Jane’s an orphan, spending the summer at her grandmother’s mysterious mansion on the east coast. Then, one day, Jane looks into a reflecting ball in the garden…and sees Emily staring back. A classic book in the vein of 1980s horror movies. Grades 6-9.
Witch’s Sister by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Lynn and her best friend, Mouse, suspect that their neighbor is a witch. But how can they prove it, and expose her evil deeds, when neither girl’s parents believe them– and when Lynn’s sister might be in immense danger? First in a series. Grades 3-7.
Book of Ghost Stories edited by Roald Dahl. These 14 spooky stories were hand-picked by Dahl himself, and are guaranteed to “give you the creeps and disturb your thoughts.” Includes stories by E. F. Benson, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Rosemary Timperley, and Edith Wharton. Grades 6-7.
Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine. A classic horror series popular since it was first published in the early 1990s. You might remember reading it yourself as a child! Stories always include kid protagonists in danger, usually from something they’ve done to themselves. The endings are just as unsettling as the rest of the book, often without any clear-cut happy solutions. Quick and easy to read, perfect for kids who want to read something spooky without being overly terrified. A good “starter” series. Grades 2-5.
>>> Established Goosebumps readers might be interested in R.L. Stine’s books for a slightly older audience, such as the Fear Street series. Same types of characters and situations as the Goosebumps series, but with an increase in danger and overall spookiness. Grades 7-9.
Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller. Charlie Laird’s problems are about to get a lot more dangerous. His worries about his stepmother (a total witch) and his new creepy house plus with his inability to sleep add up to a whole new set of problems– his nightmares are slipping out of his dreams and into the waking world…and Charlie has to stop them before they stop HIM for good. Grades 3-7.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Nobody Owens lives in a graveyard, was raised by ghosts, and has an undead guardian. Adventures with ghouls, ghosts, and goblins are just some of the benefits of his situation…but a downside is definitely being in danger from the man named Jack– who murdered Nobody’s family, and who wants to finish the job. Winner of the Newbery (US) and Carnegie (UK) medals. Grades 5-6.
>>> Also available as a wonderfully illustrated graphic novel.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Coraline’s new house has a secret door to another world, where a strangely similar life awaits. Her other mother, and her other father, want her to stay in their world– for a price. Coraline must use her wits and courage to save herself and return to her own world. Spooky and wonderfully atmospheric. Grades 3-7.
The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand. Victoria’s perfect life has an imperfection: her best friend and total disaster Lawrence. But when Lawrence goes missing, Victoria has venture into the mysterious and surprisingly dangerous Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls to rescue him. Grades 5-6.
Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones. Ghosts are disappearing throughout London, and the Ghost Bureau must investigate. The living and the dead must work together to solve the mystery of the Black Rot, before it destroys both the ghost and human worlds. Set in Victorian London, a bonus for kids who like historical settings. First in a series. Grades 5-9.
Doll Bones by Holly Black. Zach, Poppy, and Alice are three friends with wild imaginations. Now that they’re in middle school, they have to stop playing make-believe, including their grand story about the Great Queen, a bone-china doll who curses those she’s unhappy with. Then Poppy starts having dreams about the Queen, and convinces the others that the doll must be buried to truly lay the story to rest. Grades 5-9.
Well Witched by Frances Hardinge. Ryan, Josh, and Chelle think nothing about stealing some money from a wishing well. Who’s going to miss a few tarnished coins? The well witch does, and she wants payback. One of my favorite spooky books! Originally published as Verdigris Deep in the UK. Grades 3-7.
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. Two abandoned Irish siblings have found work as servants at a crumbling old English manor house. Unfortunately, the house and the family living inside are not quite what they seem… Grades 3-7.
Small Spaces by Catherine Arden. Ollie only enjoys books now, after suffering a tragic loss in her family. So when she finds someone trying to throw a book into the river, she steals it! But as she starts to read the book, she finds a story about a girl name Beth who made a deal with “the smiling man,” a sinister figure who grants wishes…for the ultimate price. Grades 5-6.
>>> The sequel, Dead Voices, comes out August 27th!
The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. Lucy, Anthony, and George work for Lockwood & Co, a detective agency run without adult supervision. They team up to solve a grisly murder involving Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England. A good combination of mystery, horror, and action. First in a series. Grades 3-7.
Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney. Thomas Ward is the last apprentice for Old Gregory the Spook, a vigilante hunter of ghosts, witches, and outright evil. Twenty-nine apprectices have tried and failed; will Thomas be able to pull off the job? Filled with properly scary antagonists, but not without empathy. First in a series. Grades 5-8.
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. Stephanie’s uncle, a famous horror fiction author, is dead– and he left her his estate. Now, pursued by evil forces for her inheritance, Stephanie finds help from an unusual source: an undead skeleton of a powerful sorcerer. More action-packed than other typical horror books, but it’s one of my favorites and I wanted to include it! First in a series. Grades 5-8.
The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright. Amy’s dollhouse is doing something weird: every night she hears scratching and scurrying noises, and in the morning the dolls are not where she left them. Are the dolls trying to tell her something? Could this all be connected to the murders of her great-grandparents? Recently re-released with an amazing new cover, this classic 1980s horror book is just as spooky now as it was when it was first published. Grades 3-7.
>>> See also: Christina’s Ghost, another recently re-released Betty Ren Wright classic.
Wait Till Helen Comes Home by Mary Downing Hahn. 12-year-old Molly and her 10-year-old brother, Michael, are moving to a refurbished old church in Rural Maryland with their new step-father and younger stepsister. The new stepsister is a brat…and is talking to a malevolent ghost named Helen. Grades 4-7
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“Scary tales don’t warp kids; they give them a place to blow off steam while they are being warped by everything else.” — Greg Ruth, “Why Horror is Good for You (and Even Better for Your Kids).”