Haunting Reads: A Roundup of Scary Selections | Focus On

This roundup of eerie titles, just in time for Halloween, is guaranteed to keep readers up at night, turning pages as their hearts pound. These dark and creepy tales offer vicarious chills to be enjoyed in the warmth and comfort of one’s own room.

SLJ1409w_FT_FocusOnwolfboyMany children and young adults are fascinated by fear and intentionally subject themselves to scary situations. Beginning at an early age, children enjoy playing games that incorporate a brief thrill of anticipation—activities that mingle fun with apprehension, from peek-a-boo and being gently tossed into the air to the “I’m gonna get you!” games like tag and hide-and-seek. Being scared can offer positive lessons in learning about emotions, controlling one’s environment, and understanding self-preservation. Dealing with a frightening scenario and emerging unscathed can make a youngster feel empowered, more confident, and better prepared for future situations. Courting fear on purpose, by reading an unsettling story, for example, is rehearsal for real life. When young people experience intimidating circumstances vicariously, they learn about their feelings and develop coping strategies.

Books that have an emotional impact on readers are easily remembered, and scary stories can serve as exceptional discussion tools in small or large group settings. Students at all grade levels will hone their skills debating the main themes of the text, determining the structure and setting, and analyzing how characters’ actions move the story along. In addition, comparing and contrasting shared stories enriches the experience and may lead to further reading. All of these literacy skills serve to meet specific goals of the CCSS. The following list offers a variety of scary tales across the grades that will engage readers, perhaps even reluctant ones, and encourage sharing, whether used in a classroom setting or for individual reading.


For Young Readers

BAUER, Marion Dane. Dinosaur Thunder. illus. by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Scholastic. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780590452960. PreS-Gr 1–Brannon’s family’s attempts to alleviate his dread of thunder only make the child more frightened, until his brother suggests an explanation that helps the young boy delight in the rumbling sounds. Richly colored illustrations, using a variety of nontraditional materials and printmaking techniques, accent a clever approach to dealing with fear. BROWNE, Anthony. What If…? illus. by author. Candlewick. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763674199. PreS-Gr 2–Joe’s forgotten the address of the party he’s been invited to attend. As he and his mother look in windows, attempting to find the home, Joe’s uncertainty about the food, games, and other guests creates unsettling images inside each house they pass, revealing his nervousness. Detailed gouache and crayon illustrations highlight common childhood apprehensions. HARRIS, Robie H. When Lions Roar. illus. by Chris Raschka. Scholastic/Orchard. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545112833. PreS-Gr 2 –When scary noises (shrill sirens, rumbling thunder, angry parents) upset a small boy, he takes matters into his own hands to banish his fear. The practical lesson presented here will empower children as they understand that they can control certain distressful situations. Bright watercolor and crayon drawings on white space are affirmative and lighthearted. HEIDE, Florence Parry. Some Things Are Scary. illus. by Jules Feiffer. Candlewick. 2011 (reprint ed.) pap. 7.99. ISBN 9780763655907. PreS-Gr 2 –“Skating downhill when you haven’t learned to stop” and “Getting a shot” are two examples of a variety of universally frightening or upsetting predicaments common to children. Illustrations in watercolor and black felt-tip marker adroitly convey the consternation felt by the young boy featured. MONGREDIEN, Sue. Harry and the Monster. illus. by Nick East. Tiger Tales. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781589251465. PreS-K–A nightmare has Harry afraid to go to sleep. His parents offer solutions, but most of them simply exacerbate the situation, until his father makes an excellent suggestion that settles the matter. Harry’s large purple Muppet-like monster is not very scary, and the boy’s fanciful imaginings add humor that ameliorates a common childhood fear. PINFOLD, Levi. Black Dog. illus. by author. Candlewick. 2012. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763660970. PreS-Gr 3–When, one by one, members of the Hope family notice a giant black dog lurking outside their home, they hide from the ever-growing menace. The littlest in the family realizes the only way to bring the creature down to a manageable size is to confront it. Beautifully detailed tempera illustrations reveal the eccentric family and their brave youngest member. REYNOLDS, Aaron. Creepy Carrots. illus. by Peter Brown. S. & S. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442402973; ebk. $11.76. ISBN 9781442453098. PreS-Gr 2–Jasper Rabbit loves eating carrots from a farmer’s field, until he begins to “feel” the carrots following him. Is it his imagination or reality? The tale’s eerie atmosphere, enhanced by the black and gray comic-style panels highlighted with punches of bright orange, is softened with subtle and not-so-subtle humor throughout. SCHNEIDER, Josh. Bedtime Monsters. illus. by author. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544002708. PreS-Gr 1–Arnold discovers that the nighttime monster that frightens him is afraid of another monster that fears another monster, and so on. After sheltering the frightened creatures one by one in his bed, Arnold finally stands up for himself and faces the fearful (and fear-filled) beasts. Softly colored drawings create an appealing tale of taking control. SNICKET, Lemony. The Dark. illus. by Jon Klassen. Little, Brown. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316187480; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316247382. PreS-Gr 2– Laszlo is afraid of the dark, which usually lives in the basement. When the boy’s nightlight burns out, the dark beckons him into the pitch-black cellar where suspense builds and a surprise awaits. Digital and gouache illustrations feature the two main characters, Laszlo and the dark, in somber brown, blue, and black. SLJ1409w_FT_FocusOn-cvs2

Middle Grades

BARNHILL, Kelly. The Mostly True Story of Jack. Little, Brown. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316056700; pap. $7. ISBN 9780316056724; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9780316175234. Gr 4-7–After being sent to live with his strange, and heretofore unknown, aunt and uncle in Hazelwood, Iowa, Jack senses that the townsfolk have been waiting for him. The intriguing and unsettling mystery in which he finds himself turns out to be a battle between good and evil. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio. BLACK, Holly. Doll Bones. illus. by Eliza Wheeler. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781416963981; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442474871. Gr 4-8–Zach and his friends, Poppy and Alice, act out imaginative tales using dolls and action figures until Zach’s father forbids him to play. However, the girls convince Zach to help them solve the mystery of a bone-china doll they fear was created from the bones of a dead girl. An absorbing mix of ghost story and adventure tale. Audio version available from Listening Library. BRADLEY, Timothy. Infestation. Scholastic. 2013. pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780545459044; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9780545520768. Gr 5-8–Twelve-year-old Andy Greenwood is sent to the Reclamation School for Boys after he’s caught stealing. Located in an abandoned testing facility, the school contains long-forgotten chemicals which produce hundreds of mutant ants after an earthquake hits the area. Andy’s action-packed attempts to outwit the monstrous insects will grab readers in this sci-fi page-turner. GAIMAN, Neil. Coraline. illus. by Dave McKean. HarperCollins. 2002. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780380977789; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780061139376; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780061972638. Gr 3-6–Opening the normally locked door in the drawing room, Coraline discovers an “almost” mirror image of her life with her mother and father. When she returns to her side of the door, however, she finds that her parents have disappeared. A thrilling tale of an alternate reality underscored with sinister grey and black sketches. GIDWITZ, Adam. A Tale Dark and Grimm. Penguin. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780525423348; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780142419670; ebk. $7.99. ISBN 9781101445280. Gr 4-7–Rewritten tales with a twist feature Hansel and Gretel as they visit other Grimm stories. Gory, frightening, and often funny, the twins’ adventures will hold the interest of even the most reluctant reader. Gidwitz continues the theme with In a Glass Grimmly (2012) and The Grimm Conclusion (2013). Audio versions available from Recorded Books. GILMAN, Charles. Professor Gargoyle. illus. by Eugene Smith. (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School). Quirk. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781594745911; ebk. $13.99. ISBN 9781594745928. Gr 4-7–Eleven-year-old Robert Arthur’s new school is anything but normal—rats stream from lockers, students disappear, and the science teacher transforms into a grotesque creature. Secrets discovered in the library’s attic motivate Robert, his two new friends, and a two-headed rat to solve the building’s wicked mysteries. Pencil illustrations scattered throughout add to the creepy goings-on. Audio version available from Listening Library. GRAVES, Keith. The Orphan of Awkward Falls. illus. by author. Chronicle. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780811878142; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9781452110448. Gr 4-7– A vast decaying mansion, an escaped cannibalistic murderer, a metallic robot with pincers instead of hands, a talking cat, and a small boy have enlivened 12-year-old Josephine’s recent move to a small town in Manitoba, Canada. Unanticipated plot twists, gruesome surprises, and bizarre pencil and paint illustrations will keep readers on the edge of their seats. HOROWITZ, Anthony. Raven’s Gate. (The Gatekeepers). Scholastic. 2006. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780439680097; ebk. $7.99. ISBN 9780545474023. Gr 5-8–Fourteen-year-old Matt Freeman, in the wrong place at the wrong time during a burglary, ends up in custody in a small town purported to have few temptations for a trouble-prone boy. When Matt discovers that his presence is part of an evil plan, his battle with the supernatural really begins. First in a riveting series. Audio version available from Recorded Books. PRELLER, James. Home Sweet Horror. (Scary Tales). illus. by Iacopo Bruno. Feiwel & Friends. 2013. lib. ed. $16. ISBN 9780606318938; Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781250018861; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9781250018878; ebk. $4.27. ISBN 9781250037886. Gr 3-5–Creepy scratch board illustrations enhance the malevolent atmosphere in this chapter book about a boy and his sister moving into a large, rundown house with their newly-widowed father. Strange nighttime sounds and ominous sense of foreboding will captivate reluctant readers along with fans of spooky tales. Expect requests for additional titles in the series. WINTERS, Ben H. Literally Disturbed: Tales to Keep You Up at Night . illus. by Adam F. Watkins. Price Stern Sloan. 2013. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9780843171945; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780698159310. Gr 3-6–Shared around a campfire or at a slumber party, these 30 dread-filled poems and their accompanying creepy pen-and-ink drawings will certainly produce a few cold sweats, goose bumps, and sleepless nights. Perfect for those who like being frightened, with a bit of humor to lighten the mood.

YA/High School

BLACK, Holly. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Little, Brown. 2013. Tr $19. ISBN 9780316213103; ebk. $8.99. ISBN 9780316213110. Gr 9 Up–In this dystopian thriller, Tana, 17, awakens the morning after a party stunned to discover her friends slain by blood-sucking predators. Her ex-boyfriend, infected by a vampire, is found chained alongside a mysterious vampire boy. With limited choices, the three teens travel to treacherous Coldtown, a walled city built to quarantine the afflicted. Audio version available from Blackstone Audio. BROSGOL, Vera. Anya’s Ghost. illus. by author. First Second. 2011. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781596437135; pap. $15.99. ISBN 9781596435520; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466804739. Gr 7 Up–Anya, a Russian immigrant, literally stumbles upon Emily, an adolescent ghost. The wraith offers to befriend Anya and help the teen fit in at her high school. But when evil Emily rediscovers the benefits of being out in the world, Anya has a serious problem. Expressive cartoon panels in black and deep purple carry the tale. CHRISTOPER, Lucy. Stolen. Scholastic. 2010. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545170932; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780545170949; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780545361118. Gr 9 Up–Sixteen-year-old Gemma, waiting for a flight in a Bangkok airport, is drugged and abducted by an Australian man who has been stalking her for several years. She awakens in the desolate Outback and must decide whether to attempt an escape or accept life with her captor. Suspenseful and haunting. Audio version available from Recorded Books. COSIMANO, Elle. Nearly Gone. Penquin/Kathy Dawson Bks. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780803739260; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781101616475. Gr 9 Up–Hoping to solve the murders of her classmates by deciphering coded messages in the personal ad section of the newspaper, Nearly Boswell finds she is suspected of being the killer. She believes she can trust one person with her suspicions, but can she really? A mystery-thriller that doesn’t disappoint. FLEMING, Candace. On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave. Random/Schwartz & Wade. 2012. lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375967818; Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780375867811; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780375898631. Gr 6 Up–Driving home late at night, 16-year-old Mike Kowalski picks up a wandering girl who is actually a ghost from a nearby graveyard. Entering the cemetery, Mike is surrounded by teenage phantoms who share tales of their untimely, and sometimes violent, deaths. Set in the Chicago area, their spooky accounts cover more than 100 years of local history. Audio version available from Listening Library. KRAUS, Daniel. Scowler. Random. 2013. lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375990946; Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385743099; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780385743105; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780307980878. Gr 9 Up–Imprisoned nine years ago for ruthless cruelty to his family, Ry Burke’s father escapes and returns to the desolate family farm to avenge the son who had him incarcerated. Desperate to save his mother and sister, Ry calls upon the “Unnamed Three,” imaginary childhood guardians, to help him defeat his monster father. Audio version available from Listening Library. NESS, Patrick. More Than This. Candlewick. 2013. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780763662585; pap. $8. ISBN 9780763676209; ebk. $19.99. ISBN 9780763667672. Gr 10 Up–Seth remembers drowning in the Pacific Ocean, yet awakens in the familiar surroundings of his childhood home in England. He fears he is alone in this version of Hell, until he meets Regine and Tomasz who have also died violently. Together they search for answers in a nightmare filled with memories and menace. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio. OLIVER, Lauren. Panic. HarperCollins. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062014559; ebk. $11.99. ISBN 9780062285591. Gr 9 Up–In this adrenaline-charged thriller set in contemporary upstate New York, high school seniors choose to play Panic, an annual secret survival game which pits player against player. Motivated by a cash prize that will let them escape their down-and-out town, Heather and Dodge enter the game, even though some past participants have died or been seriously injured. Audio version available from Blackstone Audio. SEDGWICK, Marcus. White Crow. Roaring Brook. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781596435940; ebk. $7.12. ISBN 9781429976343. Gr 9 Up–Three narrators relate the mystery in this suspenseful, modern-day gothic tale of two teenage girls in a small English village perched above a disintegrating cliff. Discussions of the afterlife, increasingly reckless actions, and a 200-year-old parallel story meld to endanger the girls as the town’s wicked history is gradually disclosed. SMITH, Alexander Gordon. Lockdown. (Escape from Furnace). Farrar. 2009. lib. ed. $20.85. ISBN 9780606230650; Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374324919; ebk. $7.12. ISBN 9781429946582. Gr 9 Up–Alex Sawyer, 14, has been convicted of a murder he didn’t commit and sentenced to life without parole in the abominable Furnace, a penitentiary buried deep within the Earth. His discoveries about the prison’s function, its heinous inhabitants, and his plans for escape are skillfully revealed. The first entry in an engrossing dystopian series. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio. SMITH, Lindsay. Sekret: An Empty Mind is a Safe Mind. Roaring Brook. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781596438927; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781596438934. Gr 9 Up–Seventeen-year-old Yulia Chernina, kidnapped by the KGB in 1963 Moscow and forced to use her psychic ability to help defeat Americans in the Space Race, must acquiesce or her family will die. This thrilling, suspense-filled historical fiction novel with a touch of the paranormal will enthrall teen readers. WEIN, Elizabeth. Code Name Verity. Hyperion. 2013. lib. ed. $20.95. ISBN 9780606317603; Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423152194; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781423152880; ebk. $8.99. ISBN 9781423153252. Gr 9 Up–Maddie, a young British pilot, crashes her spy plane in German-occupied France during World War II. Her passenger, Verity, is captured by the Gestapo and allowed to live one day at a time by disclosing British war secrets. Tension, torture, friendship, loyalty, and survival combine for an unforgettable tale. Audio version available from Bolinda Publishing.

Maryann H. Owen is a youth services librarian at Oak Creek Public Library, Oak Creek, WI.

For Teachers

Readwritethink. International Reading Association/National Council of Teachers of English. (Accessed 7/26/14). Language arts teachers in need of material aligned to the CCSS will appreciate this free resource. A keyword search of “scary story” leads to lesson plans, including “Thrills! Chills! Using Scary Stories to Motivate Students to Read” and “Ghosts and Fear in Language Arts: Exploring the Ways Writers Scare Readers” for middle and high school students. Scary Starters: Writing Activity Ideas. Scholastic. (Accessed 7/26/14). The suggested activity for grades one through five encourages groups of students to collaborate in writing a scary story using sentence starters to jump-start the process. After completing the story, groups can present it to the class. Cooperation, creativity, and public speaking are incorporated.

For Students

American Folklore. www.americanfolklore.net. S. E. Schlosser. (Accessed 7/26/14). Gr 7 Up–Schlosser, a freelance writer and storyteller, offers access to her retellings of a wide variety of American folktales. Created as part of a graduate study in 1997, the website includes a good number of scary stories.


Mystery Math Town. Artgig Studio. 2013. Version 1.0.4. iOS, require 4.3 or later. Compatible with iPad. $2.99. (Accessed 7/26/14). K-Gr 4–Players use addition, subtraction, and multiplication skills to save a town’s trapped fireflies. Atmospheric music and graphics are entertainingly creepy but not overly scary. Allows for multiple player accounts with avatars. The sequel, Mystery Math Museum, includes division skills. Papa Sangre. Somethin’ Else. 2013. Version 1.2.2. iOS, requires 5.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, optimized for iPhone 5. $4.99. (Accessed 7/26/14). Gr 9 Up–In this thriller, players are trapped in a dark mansion. They must rescue another person and escape by fighting off horrible monsters. Sound guides players through the game, so headphones are required. Not for the fainthearted. The sequel, Papa Sangre II (2014), is equally ghoulish. Puzzle Agent 2 HD. Telltale Inc. 2011. Version 1.2. iOS, requires 4.2 or later. Compatible with iPad. $2.99. (Accessed 7/26/14). Gr 6 Up–Agent Nelson Tethers is haunted by an unsolved case even though the FBI has marked it “closed.” Players must use logic and mathematics to unravel the mystery.
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Beverly Wrigglesworth

I was surprised that Jonathan Auxier's "Night Gardener" was not on the list. Very creepy story.

Posted : Sep 16, 2014 12:02



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