Bunnicula was the first “scary” book I read. Of course, if you’ve read the book, you know it’s not really a scary novel, but it was the first book that I picked up with the express purpose of wanting to be scared. 

From there, I went on to Goosebumps (another not-so-scary series), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, so many Christopher Pike novels as a teen, and of course Stephen King. 

I loved—and still love—reading scary stories. As a librarian, I love seeing myself in the kids who come into the library looking for scary books. So, I am always happy to oblige when a kid asks for a frightening read. 

Parents, however, are not always so eager to have their children read spooky stuff. 

Now, this is not a dig at parents. The last thing a parent wants is for their kids to be scared—and that’s good. And I will never volunteer a Stephen King novel or the Saw movie franchise to a young child. But I will always be an advocate for spooky kid lit, and here’s why: 

  • It gives power to the powerless. In horror, anyone can be a hero. Anyone can have the strength and courage to be the good that fights the evil. Kids, grownups, teenagers, pets—it doesn’t matter. And for the reader, the hero’s victory is their victory. 
  • Hidden inside horror are some truths about life. Growing up is scary. Whether its monster tales as a metaphor for puberty, learning the dangers of the past through ghost stories, or facing the scary parts of our inner minds, horror can serve as a reflection of the world we live in and a way for us to process those things. 
  • It allows kids to explore fears in a safe context. Just as horror can reflect ourselves, it can also reflect the real world. While the reader may be fighting off vampires or wondering what is lurking in the water—they are also conquering their fear of the dark or of the unknown. 
  • It helps build empathy and resilience. Neuroscience shows that reading fiction helps children develop empathy and understand how other people feel and think. That’s because fiction tricks our brains into thinking we are part of the story. When reading a scary book, kids know it’s not real, but it allows them to rehearse how they might feel or behave in a similar situation. 
  • And finally, reading scary stories is fun! It’s thrilling in a similar way that going on a roller coaster or skydiving can be. 

Of course, every child is different and will have their own preferences. There’s a difference between being thrilled and having nightmares for a week. If, as a parent, you’re unsure—choose age-appropriate books and read them together, pausing to see if your child wants to continue. 

So, if your young reader is starting to show an interest in spookier stories, you might start with some of the not-so-spooky (or lightly spooky) stories on these lists:  

Not-So-Spooky Stories – Pictures Books | Main library (jcls.org)

Slightly Spooky Stories – Beginning Chapter Books | Main library (jcls.org)