It’s hard knowing where to start with a blog. How do I narrow down all the options? Do I start with war books? Swashbuckling adventure stories? Mysteries? Fantasies? I’ll do my best to cover it all but for now I’ll start with an enquiry I received recently.
A mother and son approached me a few days ago requesting dark books. The boy’s teacher had said that he needs to start reading “darker books”. The boy had been reading the Tom Gates series by L Pichon – and although I think these are great books and I will get onto them eventually, I’ve seen many children latch onto them and find it difficult to move on to more challenging reading. Variety is the spice of life after all.
Dark can mean many things; it could describe an eerie ghost story, or perhaps something more serious such as death. In this case, we’ll discuss stories with a creepy or macabre edge to them as I don’t want to launch this blog on the subject of death, but I will cover it at some point. So here it is, my guide to creepy kids books:
On the surface this book is terrifying. You may ask ‘Who on Earth would give this to a child?’ but the surprise ending makes it worth it. In this book, Lazlo is lured down to the basement by a mysterious voice, but what he finds down there is not what you’d expect. This definitely gets your heart racing but you’ll finish it with a smile.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with this one by now but for those of you who aren’t, this is the story of Max. Max is sent to bed for being a bit too wild (sound familiar?) and sails away to an island of monsters. He becomes their king and all is fun for a while, but the monsters soon get hungry and Max looks to be a tasty snack. This one’s been a favourite for years and for good reason.
This is a collection of traditional German cautionary tales. A warning, these are not for the faint of heart. These naughty children get their comeuppance in some rather gruesome ways. Take Conrad for example, the boy who refuses to stop sucking his thumb so the nasty Scissorman cuts them off. Like I said, gruesome. Consider yourself warned.
Not the best book for teaching the alphabet since C is not for cat or car but for “the way that we find and look”. This is a rhyming adventure through the alphabet that sees two children escaping danger on every page. This is the first of a few Neil Gaiman books on this blog. You’ll soon notice a trend.
For five and up
No list is quite complete without some Roald Dahl. These hairless, toeless, witches unleash a dastardly plot to turn all the children of the world into mice. And the key to it all? Delicious, yummy, chocolate.
From the little mermaid being turned into sea-foam, to the girl in the little red shoes having her feet chopped off, this is a long way from the Disney counterparts, despite being the inspiration of our beloved Frozen.
This is not your average ghost story. Packed with hilarity such as the hobby-horse obsessed Lord Goth and his favourite meal of baked sea-otter pie in a reduction of scullery maid’s tears. Chris Riddell is an excellent writer and his illustrations will blow you away.
Earwig is an orphan and she likes it that way. Everybody in the orphanage does exactly what she says. She does her best to not get adopted by being as hateful as possible, but it backfires when she’s adopted by creepy couple Bella Yaga and Mandrake. This is a short, fun story which – with some added magic, demons and a talking cat – has a slight dark twist to it.
For nine and up
These books are so much fun. A group of orphans, heirs to the family fortune, are tormented by their gold digging uncle as he constantly pops up in disguise, offing each of the children’s guardians in turn. A long series that will keep readers busy for some time.
Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell pop up again on this list, and not for the last time. This has been a favourite of mine for years and one that I frequently recommend. It’s a cautionary tale of a girl who takes her parents for granted (and perhaps the other way around too), travels to an alternate world, and nearly ends up with buttons for eyes. However, Coraline is a smart and resourceful heroine and is an excellent character for kids to relate to.
Harry Potter is essential reading for young fantasy fans but the third book in the series is where it really starts getting scary. Don’t get me wrong, the giant spiders in The Chamber of Secrets are truly horrifying, but they’ve got nothing on a dementor. These soul sucking wraiths really get the heart pounding.
I told you they’d be back. Another deliciously dark Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell team up. This time Bod, short for Nobody, escapes assassination by crawling out of his cot and up the road to the nearby graveyard. Here, he is taken in by the resident ghosts (among other things) who swear to protect him from his would-be assassin. This book is lighthearted on the surface but hides a darker underbelly, perfect for those who just want to dip their toe into the darker side of fiction.
The Imaginary is a sweet story about companionship and imaginary friends…sort of. Rudger, Amanda’s imaginary-friend, is being hunted by the nasty, imaginary-friend eating, Mr Bunting. This is a book about imagination and friendship; it’s funny, sweet and scary, all at once.
For Teens and Young Adults
In this fictional world, every adult above the age of fifteen is brutally killed by zombies. This is more of a horror story than a creepy tale but I thought I’d add it in here. This is a series that is incredibly popular with teenage boys, but girls love them too. Expect a lot of blood and gore with these books.
Again, another bloody one, but you can expect a little more romance this time. It’s the age-old tale of ghost killer meets killing ghost. Yes, that old chestnut. This is perfect if you loved Twilight or The Mortal Instruments but are itching for something a little more…bloody. A word of warning though, these teenagers have some real potty mouths.
A short story collection connected by a larger narrative. Edgar goes to visit his Uncle during the school holidays. His Uncle is a peculiar man who, during Edgar’s visit, decides to recount some chilling tales of children finding themselves in rather sinister circumstances. You slowly begin to realise there is more going on than meets the eye. This is a great collection of hair-raising stories designed to spook, chill, and terrify.
Illustrated with vintage photographs, this book has a very old, creepy feel to it. This is a mystery-adventure novel with some superpowers and a love story thrown in. It’s got it all really.
A ritualistic murder on a mysterious island sparks the plot into motion. Reminiscent of The Wicker Man, this unsettling horror is perfect for those who like their books really dark.
This book is creepy and unsettling. Two children in a new house, a solitary lighthouse keeper, strange statues in a walled garden, a boy who drowned years ago, a debt left unpaid…
This is for teens who like a slow build and a good mystery. Comes with a creepy clown warning though, beware.
This book is brilliant. Really brilliant. It’s the story of a lonely boy in a new house. His parents attention on his newly born, premature sister, Michael is lonely. This changes when he discovers the strange, ailing man living in the garage. With themes of sickness, death and rebirth, Skelling is a serious novel told through mystery and fantasy. I highly recommend it.
Also see: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Teen), Raven’s Gate by Anthony Horowitz (Teen), Varjak Paw by S.F. Said (9+), Lord Loss by Darren Shan (Teen), Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (if you can get them) (9+), Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (9+), The Canterville Ghost by Ocar Wilde (9+), The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross (5+), Spooks Apprentice by Joseph Delaney (Teen)
Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comment box, explaining why you recommend it and what age group it’s suitable for.