Tis the season to be spooky! Here’s a list of recs for some Kid Lit Halloween reading at all ages. Disclaimer: I have not read Gretchen McNeil, the reigning queen of teen slasher novels, and this is a ME problem, not a HER problem, so if you’re looking for updated Christopher Pike, then look to her! I also did not include juggernaut favorites like: Goosebumps, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Lois Duncan because I figured you could find those on your own.
The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea (4-6): This book is exactly what the title promises! Or, if it’s NOT, it’s at least the most hilarious Halloween book ever. Like The Monster at The End of This Book, this book is full of VERY DIRE WARNINGS that should ABSOLUTELY be listened to.
The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen (4-6): This book is gentle spooky, more eerie and than scary. And ultimately, we are invited to value the dark, as it allows us to see the light. It’s a great read-aloud, and if you want the spookiest version, try Neil Gaiman’s narrated eBook version.
In a Dark Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz (6-8): An early reader classic! The very short stories in this book vary in levels of scariness, and include the story on which Carmen Maria Machado based her short story, The Husband Stitch. It can definitely be given to younger kids who do not think The Dark is scary at all.
Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez (7-9): This is a GORGEOUSLY illustrated graphic novel that is legit spooky for the younger reader. It’s also set in Colombia, which is rad. It starts off whimsical, and rapidly gets creepy AF. Maybe not the best gift for the easily spooked, but will be spot on for those who don’t mind some scary.
Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel (9-11): A rare comedy / horror book for the younger set! This story takes us into the technicolor underworld with a cast of unlikely characters. It’s also ultimately a story about loss, which can be rough for some kids, and also exactly what other kids need.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (10-12): We have moved into the portion where books that scare the shit out of adults are being introduced. Tough girl Coraline accidentally wanders into an alternate dimension where everything SEEMS great. But her Other Mother is not quite what she seems. If you want a less psychologically scary and a more spooooky story from this same author, The Graveyard Book won a Newbery and is lovely.
Doll Bones by Holly Black (11-13): Holly Black has a terrifying imagination, and this story of growing up and out of the games you liked as a younger kid is no exception. Featuring a haunted doll made of a dead girl’s bones, three great main characters, and that feeling of a fairytale while still being set in the real world, Doll Bones is a Newbery Honor for good reason.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (12+): What’s scarier, institutionalized racism or zombies? Why choose? Reanimated corpses meander all over this Civil War era novel. It gets gross and grim and honestly it’s a delight the entire time.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (13+): Judging just by the illustrations I thought this book would skew a LOT YOUNGER, and then I opened it and there’s body dysmorphia, smoking and infidelity among teens. So, you know. It’s really for teens. And it’s GREAT. When Anya falls down a well, she accidentally brings a ghost back out with her when she emerges. And that ghost has motives of her own.
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (14+): Lovers of the Sixth Sense will enjoy this solid ghost story, and its sequels. When a copy-cat starts reenacting Jack The Rippers murders in London, Rory Deveraux (an American teen) is the only witness. Probably because she was the only one who could see him. It’s creepy and upsetting and real, real fun.
Gideon the Ninth by Tasmyn Muir (15+): Lesbian necromancers in space! A horror / comedy / sci fi / fantasy mash up! This is the most wildly creative debut I’ve read in a while and it goes back in forth between being hilarious and very gross and dark constantly. If you’re wondering why everyone’s dressing up as a corpse on Twitter and Tumblr, this is why.