Scary Stories for Kids

I remember having a sleepover with a few of my cousins when I was around 10 years old. We sat around in a circle with a flashlight and read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, giving ourselves chills over both the stories and the haunting black-and-white illustrations by Stephen Gammell. We were both afraid and elated.

As a parent, it is easy to be reluctant to read a scary story to your child, or let them read one to themselves. Is it okay to do so? I think it depends on the child. Each child is different and age is not always a great predictor. One preschooler might love to feel frightened by a story, while another 12-year-old will not want to hear anything scary. Your best bet, as a parent, is to listen to your child. If they want to try reading something scary – with you or alone – let them. In my years as a librarian, I have learned that most kids will self-censor. If something is too sad, frightening or graphic for them, they will simply stop reading it. You cannot always predict what a child will find frightening (my own son is afraid of the movie Finding Nemo but has no problem watching Wizard of Oz), but you can follow their cues.

Sometimes too, scary stories can be cathartic for kids. Children as young as 4 can have an understanding that bad things sometimes happen. It is natural for them to have fears – What if my parents die? What if I get lost going to school? Scary stories can help children explore their fears in a safe environment and follow along as the child protagonist faces and conquers those fears. Also, reading with others and talking about scary books with friends can create a bonding experience. Reading scary stories can let kids experience the fast heart beat and sweaty palms they get from a fear response while knowing they’re in a safe place. I can still picture those illustrations from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, but the memory is a happy one – of sleepovers with cousins – not a frightening one.

If you feel ready to let your child read a scary story, here are a few to choose from:

Scary Stories to tell in the DarkScary stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Includes scary stories and songs pulled from American folklore. The original version is illustrated by Stephen Gammell, but a few years ago it was re-issued with new illustrations by Brett Helquist. The newer illustrations are less frightening than the originals. Also by Alvin Schwartz are More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and In a Dark, Dark Room, and Other Scary Stories, which is easier to read for a younger audience.

Grace Secrets
Grace Secrets by Annette and Gina Cascone

This is one of a creepy chapter book series, “Deadtime Stories,” written by local Lawrenceville authors.

Phantom of the Auditorium by R.L. Stine

This is one of many chapter books in the classic “Goosebumps” series by R.L. Stine. A little bit of added humor makes this a good starting point for kids ready to try something scary.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

More of an eerie fantasy than a straight-up horror book, this is the story of a young boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard. If you enjoy this, also try Coraline by the same author.

Bones: Terrifying Tales to Haunt your Dreams edited by Lois Metzger

A collection of original ghost stories by authors such as R.L. Stine, Richard Peck, Todd Strasser and more.

The Loch Ness Monster
The Loch Ness Monster by Jean Flitcroft

This is the first in a series about cryptids (legendary beasts). The second book is about the chupacabra.

Scary Tales: Home Sweet Horror by James Preller (for beginners to chapter books)

A hair-raising tale inspired by the “Bloody Mary” urban legend for kids getting comfortable with chapter books. If you like this, try another in the “Scary Tales” series.

Steampunk Poe by Edgar Allan Poe

Includes 13 stories and poems by Poe including “The Tell-tale heart,” “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Raven” paired with steampunk illustrations.

Horowitz Horror by Anthony Horowitz

This include nine short stories about everyday objects with sinister qualities. Also look for More Horowitz Horror, Bloody Horowitz, and Groosham Grange by the same author.

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch
The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

This is the first in a long series about a young boy who is the apprentice to the Village Spook, learning to protect ordinary folk from ghouls, boggarts and beasties.

Graphic Horror: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow adapted and illustrated by Jeff Zornow A retelling of Washington Irving’s classic story in graphic novel format. You can also try the original tale of the headless horseman in prose.

Scared Silly!: A book for the Brave by Marc Brown

An illustrated collection of poems, riddles, jokes, stories and more. Upbeat artwork and just enough silliness make this a great introduction to scary stories, even for the youngest readers.

Vampireology: The True History of the Fallen Ones by Nicky Raven

A large, visual guide written as if by a real vampire slayer with lots of flaps and foldouts. A great interactive choice for a vampire enthusiast.

Fear: 13 Stories of Suspense and Horror edited by R.L. Stine A collection of 13 stories by different authors perfect for reading around the campfire or at sleepovers.

Attack of the Vampire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales by David Lubar Includes 30 very short, creepy stories with plenty of humor mixed in. Lubar has also written Curse of the Campfire Weenies, Invasion of the Road Weenies and more.

Don’t go in There! by Veronika Martenova

Charles Spooky stories for beginner readers. This series also includes, “Don’t walk alone at night,” “Don’t go into the forest,” “Don’t open the door!” and “Don’t go near the water!”

Christine C.


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