Creepy, spooky, and scary books are many kids’ favorite books to read. When I think of scary books for kids, I think of authors Mary Downing Hahn and R.L. Stein because both have so many books in this genre. (Adults probably think of Stephen King — and I agree, his writing is terrifying.)
Classic scary stories aren’t just for Halloween, either. Many kids love horror stories about frightening terrors and thriller concepts whether they’re reading about a vampire or Frankenstein, monstrous creatures, or other creepy plots.
Remember, if you like one book, check to see if there are more books in the series or more books by the same author.
Here are the best scary books to keep kids up at night…
Spooky, Scary Chapter Books Kids Won’t Be Able To Put Down
Eerie Elementary: The School is Alive! by Jack Chabert, illustrated by Sam Ricks (ages 6 – 10)
Sam isn’t thrilled about becoming a hall monitor. Especially when he discovers that the school is ALIVE and trying to harm him and the other students. Sam has quite a wild adventure trying to save the students from the school. If your child loves spooky and scary, this is a great series for them.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark retold by Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell (ages 8 – 12)
This book was the MOST tattered book in my classroom library. Kids LOVED it. The short stories are very readable. You can skip around or read it cover to cover. If you like creepy and scary, this is a great choice.
Night of the Living Dummy by R.L. Stine (ages 7 – 10)
If you like this book, you’ll have about 1,000 more to read in this series and other series. These are fast-paced, scary chapter books on the easier side that kids LOVE. (Me, not so much but…)
Scarecrow’s Nightmare Maze Batman & Robin Adventures by J.E. Bright, illustrated by Luciano Vecchio (ages 7 – 10)
This is not a graphic novel; it’s an illustrated, action-packed, and slightly scary beginning chapter book. Scarecrow has taken over the corn maze where a group of terrified teenagers is trapped. It’s up to Batman and Robin to stop Scarecrow and rescue the teens. If you’re a fan of DC Comics, or even if you’re not, you’ll find this to be a great superhero adventure story.
Frightmares 2: More Scary Stories for the Fearless Reader by Michael Dahl SCARY (ages 8 – 12)
Great for scary book enthusiasts and reluctant readers, these creepy short stories are sure to keep kids enthralled.
Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, illustrated by Karl Kwasny (8 – 12 years old)
Not only is this story compelling and interesting, but so are the symbolism and life lessons. Charlie’s dad has remarried and moved Charlie and his younger brother into the stepmother’s frightening purple mansion. There, Charlie begins to have horrible nightmares that become real. The nightmare witches enter the real world to steal Charlie’s brother. Charlie follows. He and his friends must learn to face their fears to save Charlie and the world.
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn (9 – 12 years old)
Well-written and scary! Molly and Michael’s new step-sister Heather befriend a sinister ghost-child named Helen, but Helen influences Heather to malevolent ends. Building in suspense little by little, readers will be freaked out with her creepy warnings that when Helen comes, they will get what they deserve…YIKES!
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty (9-12 years old)
This book is creepy! Serafina’s pa works at the large Biltmore Estate where they also live in the basement. Serafina, used to blending into the shadows, watches the goings-on at the Estate and realizes something very sinister is happening. Children are going missing. AND, she thinks it has to do with the man in the black cloak wandering the hallways. She and her new friend, Braeden Vanderbilt, team up to discover what’s going on before more children disappear.
A Tale of Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz (8 – 12 years old)
A Tale of Dark and Grimm is dark in the bloody and macabre way but good in the I-want-to-keep-reading way. Gidwitz’s imaginative story weaves Hansel and Gretel’s story with eight more Grimm stories like “Faithful Johannes,” “The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs,” and “The Seven Ravens.” In this story Hansel and Gretel have cursed parents. The children flea their terrible parents to find better ones – ones that won’t try to kill them. The narrator, a strong, quirky voice, warns us of the bloody things to come.
Lockwood and Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (9 – 15 years old)
Dangerous ghosts and spirits are appearing everywhere in London but only certain kids can see and eradicate them. Teens Lucy, Anthony, and George badly need money for their ghost-hunting agency, Lockwood & Co., so they take a perilous job that, if the ghosts have their way, may just be their last. EXCELLENT writing & series.
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier (8 – 12 years old)
A spooky tale set in Victorian times, this atmospheric story follows young orphans working as servants at a large, creepy manor with a strange, sickly family. Nightmares, muddy footsteps, a locked room, a curse, …all the elements of this book will enthrall (and scare) readers.
Doll Bones by Holly Black (8 – 12 years old)
Maybe one day I’ll work up to this creepy doll story, but I haven’t managed yet. The gist is that it is about three friends and a bone-china doll who is haunting one girl’s dreams. Yikes, right?
The Griffins of Castle Cary by Heather Shumaker (8 – 12 years old)
Siblings Meg, Will, and Ariel couldn’t have known that visiting their aunt in England would put them on a ghost-hunting adventure. (I did not realize this was a ghost story until a few chapters in. If you like ghost stories, you’ll want to read this book!) While Meg and Will look for information on a famous mother ghost who is searching eternally for her missing child. They’ll find her, but the bigger problem is with their sister. Because unfortunately, their little sister, Ariel, becomes enraptured with a real ghost child who has nefarious purposes. Well-written, action-packed, and spooky!
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
A plot-driven, spooky story! Not only are Cass’s parents ghost aficionados for their own TV show but after she had a terrible drowning accident, Cass sees ghosts and the Veil. In fact, Cass’s best friend the ghost named Jacob saved her life. When they all travel to Edinburgh, Scotland for the TV show, Cass discovers that she isn’t the only one who can see ghosts; she’s actually a ghost hunter. (Which Jacob doesn’t like at all.) But as she’s trying to figure out what that means, she’s terrorized by the Raven in Red, an old, female ghost who kills children. Creepy and compelling.
Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke (8 – 12 years old)
In this ghost story about a pair of brave kids, Jon and Ella, they are stalked by a pack of ghosts who can actually do them harm –which is slightly scary. It’s very well written with excellent character development.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (8 – 12 years old)
This book shows Gaiman’s incredible storytelling ability. It’s about a girl, Coraline, who discovers an alternative reality identical to her own — same house, same mother and father — through a little door in her house. It’s a world that at first seems wonderful yet it becomes frightening when Coraline realizes she might not get to leave. Very creepy. (And talk about a real haunted house!)
Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schiltz (8 – 12 years old)
This scary gothic mystery pits an evil puppet master and an aging witch against three young children — one who has been kidnapped and turned into a puppet. If you don’t mind getting creeped out and like a good story, this book is for you.
The Whispering House by Rebecca Wade (8 – 12 years old)
A slightly scary story about a girl haunting a fairy tale book in Hannah’s new home. Hannah must figure out why the ghost is haunting her and see if that will stop the haunting. A decent read.
Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn (ages 8 – 12)
This author is who you want to read if you’re into ghosts and scary stuff. Took is a creepy tale of little girl kidnapping by an evil witch named “Old Auntie” who turns the girls into slaves. Daniel knows he can save his little sister and does with a little help from the witch’s descendant and new friends.
Haunted Histories by J. H. Everett (8 – 12 years old)
Believe it or not, I sat down and read this book straight through – having intended to skim it. It was fascinating! It’s more about history than spookiness – I learned more about the Tower of London, tips for attacking a castle, the crazy King Ludwig II of Bavaria, The Bastille, and lots more. I highly recommend this can’t-put-it-down book!
Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker, illustrated by Junyi Wu (8 – 12 years old)
The creepy storyteller in the sinister Bog Cavern tells short, interconnected SCARY stories to a litter of seven foxes with a warning: the stories might just scare them (and you) half to death. As the horrifying tales are told, we see how they connect. But how will they end? I love that the stories are all about animals and that there are tender and funny moments of love and family along with the scary. But beware of the rest…
Olive and the Backstage Ghost by Michelle Schusterman (8 – 12 years old)
If you like suspenseful mysteries with ghosts that aren’t too scary, this book is for you! Olive, an aspiring actress with a domineering mother, discovers she fits in perfectly at Maudeville, a gorgeous old theater she’s run away to. Not only that, she’s been cast as the lead in the newest production. But there is something weird going on — her friend’s brother lives outside the theater in the alley and continues to warn her that things aren’t what they seem. What is really going on? Is it good or bad?
The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie (8 – 12 years old)
Readers love this story about Tessa who moves to a new house in Florida, which seems to be haunted. Her brother’s ventriloquist dummy is crying real tears (because what’s more creepy than dolls!?), and she discovers that the house has a mystery that may be connected to her.
Undertakers: The Rise of the Corpses by Ty Drago (ages 10 – 13)
A great kids-must-save-the-world book with a unique zombie/alien twist. Aliens are taking over corpses and reanimating them. Only some kids can see the real zombie beneath the alien “masks” — our hero gets the zombie sight and is rescued by a group of zombie fighters called Undertakers. He convinces the Undertakers group to stop being defensive but to be more aggressive and determine how to kill the corpses. I liked this book a lot!! (Free on Kindle Unlimited.)
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Mayberry (YA/teen ages 13+)
It’s a creepy, scary, and also somewhat bittersweet world of humanity who must survive in enclaves while the hoards of zombies roam the rest of the land — zombies who used to be family and friends. Mayberry does an amazing job at making the zombies pitiful and the zombie hunters’ job (so to speak) heartbreaking but necessary. At age 15, Benny must either fight zombies like his brother Tom or find a different job, or else his rations will be halved. Many of the “zoms” are people he once knew and loved and soon Benny learns that there are people in the world who are worse than the zombies.
The Passage by Justin Cronin (SERIES) (ages 17+)
This is an adult chapter book that scared the cr*p out of me– but it was such a page-turner and would work for young adults. The twist is the scary dudes aren’t really zombies but are killing with their intelligent hive-mind after an infection the government gave the prisoners goes very wrong. It’s so well written that I kept reading. ONLY read at your own risk. Seriously. Freaky. Horror novel.
WHAT TO READ NEXT…