written by Kathie MacIsaac, librarian and middle-grade book lover (full bio below)
Do you like to read a book that makes you pull the covers a little tighter around you? Do you enjoy a story that gives you goosebumps, or requires you to sleep with the light on? Many kids love scary stories with ghosts and supernatural forces, but I also like a dark and emotional tale that tugs at my heartstrings. Here are my all-time favorite spooky reads, some which are downright scary, but all of which leave the reader wanting more.
10 Favorite Spooky Chapter Books for Middle Grade Readers
1. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
If you love spine-chilling books, then you NEED to read this one. It has some of the scariest scenes I’ve ever read in middle grade literature, yet it’s balanced with an excellent story about three teenagers who team up to track down and destroy ghosts in London. Desperate for money, Lucy, Anthony, and George take on a case that might be their undoing. This is the first book in the Lockwood & Co. series, and at 381 pages long, you can fall into this story and stay there for a while (but you might want to do it with the lights on).
2. The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
Jonathan Auxier is one of my all-time favorite authors because his stories are masterfully crafted with beautiful language, engaging characters, and interesting plots. In this book, Molly and Kip, two Irish orphans, find work as servants in an old English house. But there is darkness that surrounds the manor, and soon the children are mixed up with a curse and some evil forces. The Night Gardener is near the top of my list of recommendations for kids asking for scary reads.
3. Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi
Whichwood is the sequel to Tahereh Mafi’s Furthermore, but this story spoke to me in a very different way than the first book. Laylee is the last remaining mordeshoor in her village, and she is solely responsible for preparing bodies for the afterlife. The hard work is never-ending, and the physical toll on Laylee leads to serious repercussions. Even with the help of some unexpected alliances, she may not be able to keep the unhappy ghosts from seeking revenge on the living. The imagery is remarkable, and it really brings the story to life for the reader.
4. The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie
An unsolved mystery, a haunted house, and an incredibly creepy doll are just a few of the strange things you find on Shady Street. Tessa really doesn’t like her new house in Chicago, and she sets out with some friends to discover the secrets of its past. What they find is disturbing and shocking. Although I highly recommend this book, I promise you’ll never look at a ventriloquist dummy the same way again.
5. The Land of Yesterday by K.A. Reynolds
In this book by debut author K.A. Reynolds, Cecelia’s family is falling apart. Her little brother, Celadon, recently died in a tragic accident. Her mother is beside herself with grief and decides to look for him in the Land of Yesterday, where all souls go after death. Cecelia’s beloved house, Widdendream, has also turned evil and taken her father hostage. It’s up to Cecelia to try and fix her broken family. There is so much emotion and darkness in this book, but it’s also filled with hope, and many young readers will be able to relate to this powerful read.
6. Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
In Spirit Hunters, Harper thinks her new house in Washington, D.C. might be haunted, but knows that something is wrong with her brother, Michael. Could it be the house that’s having an influence on his uncharacteristic behavior? Harper also has the sense that there’s something very familiar about this whole situation, and wonders if she can figure out why, and help her brother before it’s too late.
7. The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
I absolutely love the whole Magisterium series, but I chose this fourth book in the series as a favorite spooky read because of the emotions it brought out in me. A dramatic ending to the third book finds the main characters reeling and coming to terms with a huge upset at the start of this story. As it progresses, they are forced to make a decision that will bring one of their friends back to life, but it doesn’t turn out the way they hoped. This is a dark story that explores what it really means to be alive.
8. Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
The Serafina series is another one of my favorite dark series, and this book is the one that sets the stage for the tales that follow. Serafina has lived a life in secret in the basement of Biltmore Estate, where her father is the maintenance man. Children on the estate suddenly start disappearing, and Serafina sees who’s behind it, but doesn’t know who they are. She befriends a boy to help her uncover the identity of the culprit, but Serafina discovers a mystery about her own past that will change her life forever.
9. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
A Newbery winner that is on its way to becoming a classic, The Graveyard Book is a fabulous read about Bod, a young boy who is raised by ghosts in a graveyard. Bod is afraid to leave the graveyard in case the man who killed his parents comes back to finish the job he started, but there are other dangers that threaten Bod, and the time to face them is quickly approaching.
10. The Gravedigger’s Son by Patrick Moody
Ian comes from a long line of gravediggers, but he feels called to be a healer instead. He’s afraid to tell his father, though, and continues with his training despite knowing that this is not the life he wants. Ian is lured into the forbidden forest, though, and sets off a domino effect that includes witches, dark power, and help from some former gravediggers who attempt to quash the evil uprising.