Scary stories for Young Readers
(and for the Young at Heart)
By Amy Bearce
It’s dark outside. Thunder rumbles, then rain begins to beat on the windows. You’re alone in the house. You snuggle under the covers and open your favorite scary book. Ghosts. Hauntings. Monsters. You smile, and keep reading. A few minutes later, you pause. Wait. What’s that sound? You listen harder. Is someone in the house with you? Your heart races. Your palms sweat. You turn on the overhead light, and check. It’s just you. No one’s there. Your fears poof into nothingness. The book had just scared you. A little.
So you snuggle down…and open the book up again.
What puts the oooh in spooky books? Why do some of us like to scare ourselves by reading stories of ghosts and monsters?
Part of the answer seems to lie in our brains.
When we know we are in a safe environment, the fight or flight response triggered in a haunted house or while reading a scary book provides a wash of chemicals in the brain. Some of us respond differently to those chemicals in our sympathetic nervous system than others. Those of us who don’t like scary things are more stress-sensitive. But for some of you, you are thrill-seeking because of the way your brain interacts with the adrenaline, endorphins and dopamine released. Those chemicals give you a rush that feels good. You are the ones who love those haunted houses, laugh your way through scary movies, and love Stephen King books.
Another reason some people enjoy scary stories is because, just like with any reading experience, books allow us to experience something without actually living it. Facing down a scary situation and coming out okay can produce a feeling of confidence and satisfaction. And unlike movies, our brains can more easily control the images created so they will match our comfort levels.
Scary books aren’t for everyone, but as a school librarian, I had more requests for scary books than almost any other kind. Scary books can cover a wide variety of topics, but a common and popular tale is the ghost story, especially around Halloween.
It’s not a new story idea. In the first century AD, a Roman author wrote about a ghost rattling chains in his home. Famous people seem to like to hang out after their deaths, as evidenced as the many sightings of such historical figures as Ann Boleyn, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln. Certain locations seem to draw stories of hauntings, especially with traumatic events in its past. Any of those topics offer great fodder for a chill-inducing tale. People usually tend to love scary books or hate them. For those young readers in your life who want the thrill of a full-body chill this Halloween, here are five excellent scary stories for young readers.
1. Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh. This is one of the creepier middle grade books I’ve read in a while. A seventh-grade girl and her family move into a home that is rumored to be haunted. She has strange blanks in her memory, but as dangerous events start happening, she has to confront the angry ghosts who want to take over her younger brother’s life. A classic haunting tale mixed with exciting adventure. Possessed little kids will always make me shudder.
2. One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn— Released in 2018, One for Sorrow is a tale of a vengeful ghost during the 1918 influenza outbreak. However, any book by Mary Downing Hahn is a good pick—she is a ghost story master. Her books are great for students who loved Goosebumps and are ready to kick it up a notch. She has a huge backlist, and students devour them. An older book of hers, All the Lovely Bad Ones, includes mischievous but friendly ghosts of children in addition to an evil ghost.
3. Doll Bones by Holly Black—Is there anything creepier than a haunted china doll? I’m not sure. This book includes a strong friendship tale and ends positively, at least for a ghost story. Despite my childhood fear of dolls (I’m looking at you, Barbarella!), I enjoyed this one. It’s a fast, easy read, not quite as scary as some of the others.
4. Coraline—The movie is great, but never as great as the book. In Coraline’s new home, there’s a locked door. On the other side, is a brick wall, until one day she finds a passage to a home that looks just like hers—but her parents have buttons for eyes. They are also doting and attentive, unlike her own in the real world. However, the parents in the other place also want to keep her forever… and have already trapped other children there. Coraline is their only chance for escape. To try a ghost story by Neil Gaiman for children, check out The Graveyard Book.
5. The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier. This slow burn of psychological horror and suspense is my favorite scary book of all time. The writing is gorgeous, providing atmospheric descriptions while staying crisp and fast-paced. The book has a gothic mood that creates a dark, creepy story that will appeal to fans of Coraline. This book is in my top ten favorite books for young readers.
For younger readers who want a scary story but who might not sleep for a week with a really terrifying tale, try Eerie Elementary. This series is for newly independent readers with easy-to-read text. In book 1 of the series, the main character Sam must defend himself from the evil school.
As your young readers grow bigger, many will enjoy Goosebumps. You might have read this series yourself. It’s a classic for a reason. RL Stine’s books are fast, direct, and captivating to kids, with a lot of dialogue and twists in the stories. They each can stand alone.
For teens, consider the Fear Street series, Anya’s Ghost, Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Anna Dressed in Blood, and Frankenstein. Also, some of the best of Stephen King suits this older teen group, too, such as Carrie and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.
If you’ve never tried these scary stories, Halloween is the perfect day to try them out.
Who knows…maybe it’ll be an out-of-this world experience.
Who knows…maybe it’ll be an out-of-this world experience.
The world of Aluvia series
By Amy Bearce
The world of Aluvia is a place of magic, but it’s a broken, dark world where magical creatures are suffering, and the land itself begins to shake apart. When the fairy queens disappear and their little fairies die, it marks the beginning of a long journey for three girls who seek to heal their world.
Sierra hates her calling as a fairy keeper, but is compelled to travel to the dangerous wilderness to find the lost queens. (Book One, Fairy Keeper)
Phoebe must help the gentle merfolk reclaim their magic once more—by first discovering her own. (Book Two, Mer-Charmer)
And Nell must hold the line when a new enemy arrives who wants to return Aluvia to the days when humans held all the power, risking the very magic they’ve worked so hard to restore. (Book Three, Dragon Redeemer)
Amy writes fantasy and light science fiction for young readers and the young at heart. She is a former English teacher and school librarian. Prior to writing novels, she spent ten years writing short stories, articles, and poetry for state standardized reading tests on a freelance basis.
As an Army kid, she moved eight times before she was eighteen, so she feels especially fortunate to be married to her high school sweetheart. Together they’re raising two daughters in Texas. Her next release is called SHORTCUTS and will be released April 9, 2019, from CBAY Books. It’s up for pre-order now in paperback. (And there’s a Halloween dance involved.)