Six Late Summer Scares for Tweens

As fall looms on the horizon, these horror titles may be just what young readers need to bring chills to those warm nights.

As fall appears on the horizon, some summer scares may be just what young readers need to bring chills to those warm nights. Whether they’re horror buffs or genre novices, tweens will love these titles that put fresh twists on classic spooky tropes. Three collections bring horror anthologies to a new generation in Only if You Dare, Hide and Don’t Seek, and Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City. Zee Puckett loves telling ghost stories, but awakens the real thing in Ghost Girl, while a possessed doll and a haunted mansion terrorize their respective protagonists in Hush-a-Bye and What Lives in the Woods.

Allen, Josh. Only If You Dare: 13 Stories of Darkness and Doom. illus. by Sarah J. Coleman. 208p. Holiday House. Aug. 2021. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780823449064.
Gr 3-8 –Allen (Out to Get You: 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe) has done it again in his second volume of scary stories. This collection of 13 atmospheric scares centers characters (monster and human alike) that are rooted just enough in reality to make an impact. In “The Substitute,” a middle school class sits down to a teacher who is strange and refusing to stay on topic, instead talking about “Them”—a race of monsters that don’t even have a name or if they did, it’s been forgotten. Like the best stories in the genre, there is a twist. Adept at crafting effective horror for youngsters, Allen has cemented himself as the heir-apparent of ­Alvin Schwartz; this is the new quick pick for patrons who want more after reading all the classic “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” Put this book into reluctant readers’ hands, and they will beg for more. VERDICT This is a must-buy for middle grade collections; a chilling anthology of memorable scares that will leave even the biggest ­horror buffs sleeping with the light on. –Patrick Tierney, Barrington P.L., RI

Currie, Lindsay. What Lives in the Woods. 320p. Sourcebooks. Sept. 2021. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781728209753; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781728245720.
Gr 4 Up –This suspenseful tale is yet another horror offering from Currie, whose protagonists are equally in love with books and mysteries. Ginny Anderson hears from her parents that their family is packing up and moving out for a monthlong retreat in Michigan, which means missing a highly anticipated mystery writer’s workshop and leaving her friend Erica and their summertime plans behind. Her father is entrusted with the renovation of a legendary spooky mansion in Saugatuck on Lake Michigan, and her parents, Ginny, and her brother Leo find themselves in the heart of haunted happenings. Almost immediately, Agatha ­Christie–obsessed Ginny begins to witness moving objects, faces in the ­mirror, and shadows in the house’s ballroom. ­Thankfully, Ginny enlists her brother and new friend Will in solving the curse of Woodmoor Manor, giving readers a succinct detective story and bantering dialogue for the paranormal-enthused. Currie serves up an appropriately tween horror story in staccato chapters with plenty of goosebumps. VERDICT A suggested purchase for upper elementary and middle school libraries with students interested in scary stories, and a natural step-up for those reading “Five Nights at Freddy’s.” Currie provides a genuinely creepy tale that begins with literary jump-scares and evolves into a decades-old historical mystery. –Rachel Joiner, Advent Episcopal Sch., Bessemer, AL

Heidicker, Christian McKay. Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City. illus. by Junyi Wu. 400p. Holt. Aug. 2021. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250181442.
Gr 4 Up –Heidicker, a Newbery Honor recipient, continues his tale-within-a-tale of curious foxes listening to a horrific, cautionary account of survival told by a mysterious storyteller. Heidicker mixes characters from the first book—Mia and Uly, Mr. Scratch, Golgathursh, Miss Vix, curse of yellow stench—with newcomers such as Fern, the farmer, Cakeface and Treacle, 0-370 and R(A)-211 in new stories about inquisitive foxes longing for adventure. The foxes will discover if the city truly is a paradox of paradise and death worth giving up two meals a day. Eerie pencil sketch illustrations combined with a hauntingly antiquated way of speaking (and some modern slang) allows readers to empathize and visualize the world through the foxes’ perspective. The foxes struggle to explain or piece together universal truths, but aim to protect themselves and help others along the way. This unique title intends to inspire thought about the consequences of human actions on animals and the ­environment, and paints humans in a negative light that is more terrifying than the first installment. While all humans are not evil, who to trust is a theme throughout. Readers are inspired to research treatment of rabies in foxes and Heidicker’s work could be used as a teaching tool about the importance of vaccinations. While the foxes’ story has closure in The City, Heidicker paves the way for more stories to come. VERDICT Haunting and frightening nature tales of foxes in the wild and in a city, perfect for fans of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox or Sara Pennypacker’sPax; would be a wonderful text for practicing inference skills. –Laura Dooley-Taylor, Lake Zurich M.S. North, IL

Malinenko, Ally. Ghost Girl. 288p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Aug. 2021. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780063044609.
Gr 3-7 –Zee Puckett, who is white, loves to tell scary stories. After a stormy night, she convinces her best friend Elijah, a young Black boy, to go with her to explore the cemetery and listen to her latest tale. While there, they discover that more has blown into town with the storm than a few branches. They are chased by hounds that talk and have blood dripping from their eyes. Their new principal Mr. Scratch seems to know too much about people’s darkest fears. And Zee has the ability to see ghosts, just like her late mother did. Principal Scratch somehow convinces the townspeople to visualize what they really want in life. When these things come to pass, Zee, Elijah, and Zee’s bully Nellie are the only ones who recognize that they are illusions and the people are worse off, not better. The three understand that Principal Scratch is very dangerous, and stopping him is a matter of life and death. Zee is a likable character, and readers will root for her. There are some moments of symbolism that are never explained, which could cause some confusion but most likely will just add to the fright. This is not for young readers who say they want a scary story but actually mean they want suspense or an adrenaline rush with a ghost or two. VERDICT This is a chilling story that will ­delight upper elementary readers who enjoy truly creepy books. –Julie Overpeck, Gardner Park Elem. Sch., Gastonia, NC

Mott, Jody Lee. Hush-a-Bye. 240p. ­Viking. Aug. 2021. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780593206782.
Gr 4-8 –Is there anything creepier than a possessed doll? How about one that begins as a cracked and dirty head with a single gleaming green eye but does not end that way. One that whispers to Antonia and Lucy, and can makes things happen—bad things. Lucy and Antonia are sisters, but they are very different. Lucy lives her life in middle school by her personal code, which means she talks to no one and keeps her head low to avoid the bullies and whispers. Antonia walks to the beat of her own drum and collects odds and ends that she finds including Hush-a-bye, the doll head found on the riverbank. As the school year starts, Antonia insists that Hush-a-bye speaks to her. At first Lucy doesn’t believe her. But as time passes she can no longer ignore the events that keep happening whenever the doll is around. She can’t ignore the whispers she begins to hear, or the growing danger as Hush-a-bye changes and her missing parts appear slowly, making her whole and more powerful. Can Lucy save Antonia from the lure of the doll? Or will she be too late to save both of them? Mott’s deft prose and well-written characters will keep readers engaged from start to frightening finish. ­VERDICT An age-appropriate, scary tale of ­sisters and the terrifying doll that haunts them. This is the perfect read for people who love the chill of terror running down their backs. –Elizabeth Speer, Weatherford Coll., TX

Rissi, Anica Mrose. Hide and Don’t Seek: And Other Very Scary Stories. 224p. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. Aug. 2021. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780063026957.
Gr 4-6 –When it comes to scary stories, this title delivers. Young readers will find tales of hair-raising animals, monsters, dreams, crows, ghosts, dolls, black cats, a strange summer camp, worms, vampires, things under the bed, murders, superstitions, and disappearances—all the makings of a modern-day classic. Some stories are updated ­versions of familiar scary tales while others feel quite new altogether. This book also features stories in diverse formats like prose, poetry, ­letters, a play, and even an eerie text message thread. The variety of text types is likely to appeal to a wide range of readers. Rissi also features diverse characters in these spine-chilling tales, with ethnically diverse names as well as a main character whose father has two mothers. A note to readers at the start of the book reminds us why we read scary stories, and how they can help kids ­rehearse their own navigation of the scary stuff of real life. VERDICT Like Alvin Schwartz’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” this title shows promise of being read and retold again and again by this generation’s thrill-seekers.–Lindsay Persohn, Univ. of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee

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