Tales of horror are a staple of classic literature. Readers love the feeling of being frightened yet safe outside the pages of the story. Readers can identify with characters in terrifying circumstances, and support the characters who rise up and show bravery to defeat those terrors.
Young readers are no exception. Most kids love a good, scary story. Teens might be ready for classic horror novels, but younger kids might want to test the waters first with these spooky tales.
The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt (1983) by John Bellairs
John Bellairs wrote many gothic mystery novels for young readers in the 1980s and 1990s, and The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt is one of his best. The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt follows twelve-year-old Johnny Dixon, who lives with his grandparents while his father is fighting in the Korean War. Devastated after his grandmother undergoes surgery for a brain tumor, Johnny becomes involved with trying to find missing will of H. Bagwell Glomus-and collecting the $10,000 reward to pay for his grandmother’s surgery. But to do so, he must enter the dead man’s eerie mansion…and his crypt, which turns out to be still occupied. Bellairs is one of those intelligent children’s authors who, instead of writing down to kids, demands that kids rise up to a certain level to enjoy his stories. And yet Bellairs’ writing is neither pretentious nor even difficult to read. The mystery is engrossing, and Johnny’s eventual encounter in the crypt is truly scary.
Coraline (2002) by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline is much scarier than the film version of 2009. When her family moves to a new house, Coraline Jones finds a secret door which leads to a parallel-improved-version of her life at home. In the parallel world, Coraline is indulged and entertained by alternate versions of her parents and neighbors. But when her Other Mother invites her to stay-if Coraline will allow her to sew buttons into her eyes-Coraline becomes frightened and escapes. When she returns home, she finds that her parents have been kidnapped by the Other Mother, and Coraline must go back to the terrifying parallel world to save them. The terrors Coraline must face, including a trip to the cellar to face the Other Father, are frightening for readers of any age.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1986) by Alvin Schwartz
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a collection of folk tales retold by author Alvin Schwartz. Some stories, like the babysitter who receives a phone call from a stranger in the house, will be recognized even by young readers. Each story is fairly short and presented as a version meant to be read aloud. There is even a final section of funny, rather than scary, stories. Most frightening about this collection, though, are the illustrations by Stephen Gammell. All of the illustrations are creepy, even by adult standards, but especially in the story “The Haunted House.” When a preacher meets a ghost woman in the cellar of an abandoned house, unsuspecting readers will turn the page and come face to face with the ghost woman-Aaaa!
Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness (2004) by Edgar Allen Poe and Gris Grimly
Every reader of horror must begin with Edgar Allan Poe, the early master of horrifying and suspenseful tales. A great collection of Poe’s stories for young readers is Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness, with stories slightly abridged and illustrated by Gris Grimly. The stories include four of Poe’s most popular: “The Black Cat,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “Hop-Frog,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Grimly’s artwork not only complements Poe’s stories, but will also be appreciated by adults and young readers alike.
Thankfully, one can also read most of Poe’s work online The best site for young readers is PoeStories.com, where each story includes hyperlinked vocabulary words, for readers who may have trouble with Poe’s language and want to look up the definitions of certain words.
All the Lovely Bad Ones (2008) by Mary Downing Hahn
Hahn’s spooky books are a favorite with young readers. Her novel All the Lovely Bad Ones won the 2010 Rebecca Caudill Award, an award given by kids who vote on their favorite books of the year. In the novel, two “bad” kids, Travis and his sister Corey, visit their grandmother’s Vermont inn for the summer, an inn rumored to be haunted. When Travis and Corey try to scare the guests by pretending to be ghosts, they inadvertently wake up the real ghosts, the “bad” kids who were punished by their evil caretakers back when the inn was a poor farm where destitute families went. Some parts of the story are spooky, but Hahn is an excellent author who weaves in a strong story beyond just the chills and thrills. Travis and Corey learn about the conditions of the poor farm and the people who lived there, and they must figure out how to put to rest the spirits that they disturbed with their pranks.
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