The days are growing shorter, and the shadows longer. Leaves are abandoning trees, leaving skeletal branches behind. Like a cold breath at the back of your neck, the air hints at the winter chill soon to follow. This is the Halloween season, when bogeymen rise to walk among us, whether or not we acknowledge them. This is the season of the witch.
Have you ever wondered why gooseflesh is such a common affliction this time of year? It’s just your imagination, you tell yourself about that peculiar scratching sound you thought you heard, or that looming figure you half-glimpsed from the corner of your eye. All’s quiet now, and of course no-one was there when you turned to look. But still the gooseflesh rises on your skin.
Most adults try to deny their seasonal uneasiness by seeking solace in manufactured distractions: “Sweater weather!” “Pumpkin spice lattes!” “College football!” They snack on cider donuts while traipsing through corn mazes, doing their best to dismiss the jittery sensations within. “Too many lattes,” they tell themselves. “Sweater’s not quite thick enough!”
Children, on the other hand, know better. They know never to dismiss the sound of a creaky floorboard as “nothing.” They know the risks of dangling a foot over the side of their bed in the dark. They know that there’s no way to tell who, or what, might be watching from the shadows. They know these things year-round, but the Halloween season heightens their senses.
In honor of all the young readers who appreciate a a few tingles down their spines, we’ve conjured up a list of our favorite spooky books for children of all ages. No tricks, all treats. Happy haunting–er, reading–everyone!
Skelly’s Halloween, by CLiF presenter David Martin; illustrated by Lori Richmond
After a tumble leaves him in pieces, Skelly B. Skeleton just might miss out on his favorite holiday: Halloween! A parade of animals tries to put Skelly back together again, but it will take the help of some resourceful children to save the day.
What Was I Scared Of?, by Dr. Seuss
Why is a pair of pale green pants roaming around with nobody inside them? The narrator of this rhyming Seussian tale does NOT want to find out.
Ghosts in the House, by Kazuno Kohara
At the edge of town lives a clever girl with a spooky problem: Her house is haunted! Luckily, she happens to be a witch and knows a little something about taking care of ghosts.
The Dark, by Lemony Snicket; illustrated by Jon Klassen
The dark lives in the same house as Laszlo. Mostly, though, the dark stays in the basement and doesn’t come into Lazslo’s room. But one night, it does.
Laszlo is afraid of the dark.
This is the story of how Laszlo stops being afraid of the dark.
Creepy Carrots, by Aaron Reynolds; illustrated by Peter Brown
The Twilight Zone comes to the carrot patch as a rabbit fears his favorite treats are out to get him in this Caldecott Honor–winning picture book.
Vampirina Ballerina, by Anne Marie Pace; illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Becoming a ballerina isn’t easy when you’re a vampire like Vampirina, and have to find a class that meets only at night; can’t check out your form in the mirror; must resist the urge to snack on the other dancers; all while grappling with stage fright!
Outside Over There, by Maurice Sendak
While Papa is away at sea, and Mama is deep in a depressive funk, Ida’s baby sister is stolen by goblins to be a goblin bride. It falls to Ida to track the goblins down Outside Over There and save her little sister from her child-bride plight.
Wait Till Helen Comes, by Mary Downing Hahn; illustrated by Meredith Laxton
Two siblings must save their stepsister from the clutches of a vengeful ghost in this graphic novel adaptation of master horror storyteller Mary Downing Hahn’s spookiest and most popular tale.
The Witches, by Roald Dahl
A young boy is warned by his grandmother that real witches are the most dangerous creatures imaginable. They despise children, and seek to eradicate them at all costs. But her warnings can’t save him when he comes face to face with the most powerful witch of them all. A graphic novel version of Dahl’s Witches, by artist Pénélope Bagieu, was released in 2020.
Hoodoo, by Ronald. L. Smith
Twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher was born into a family with a rich tradition of practicing folk magic: hoodoo, as most people call it. The problem is, even though his name is Hoodoo, he can’t seem to cast a simple spell. But when a dangerous stranger comes to town, it turns out only Hoodoo can defeat his black magic. He’ll just need to learn how to conjure first.
Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery, by Deborah and James Howe
After the Monroe family brings home a pet rabbit, their other pets become suspicious that he’s actually a vampire bunny with an appetite for sucking vegetables dry. A graphic novel version of this hare-raising tale was released in August 2022.
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
After moving to a new house, Coraline discovers a door. When she steps through it, she finds she’s in a different–and better–version of home. Things quickly go from dreamy to creepy, however, and Coraline realizes it’s going to take everything she’s got to get back to her real life.
Doll Bones, by Holly Black
Longtime friends Zach, Alice and Poppy set off on what might be their final adventure together. But nothing goes according to plan, and as their adventure turns into an epic journey, creepy things begin to happen.
Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker
The haunted season has arrived in the Antler Wood. No fox kit is safe.
When Mia and Uly are separated from their litters, they discover a dangerous world full of monsters. In order to find a den to call home, they must venture through field and forest, facing unspeakable things that dwell in the darkness
Small Spaces, by Katherine Arden
After suffering a tragic loss, 11-year-old Ollie, who only finds solace in books, discovers a chilling ghost story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who loved her, and a peculiar deal made with “the smiling man”—a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price. She thinks it’s just a story, until a creepy and hair-raising adventure begins.