As you've no doubt read on 100 other articles since the calendar turned the page to October 1, we're now in “spooky season.” I'm not sure why the whole month of October is Halloween-themed, or why pumpkin spice lattes come out earlier every year. That's just life in America these days.
And now that school is back in session, I know kids across the nation are looking for their next easy reader or chapter book to get a jump on that semester-long reading challenge.
While there are plenty of classic reads out there, but, of course, it's easier to get kids to read if it's interesting — to them. I personally would usually recommend one of Madeleine L'Engle's novels, The Hobbit, or traditional standbys like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. But given the time of year, and that there are only so many times you can watch the Hocus Pocus films, how about a list of 16 spooky stories I think your kids will love.
The Spooky Smells of Halloween by Mary Man-Kong, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli
Join Little Sammy and his friends as they explore the world of Halloween, complete with scratch and sniff. Bob for apples, eat scary-shaped Halloween cookies and go trick-or-treating for other spooky treats.
Pumpkins by Gail Gibbons
With this book, your child will learn all about the center of the Halloween celebration – Pumpkins! Find out the different kinds of pumpkins, how they grow, and how people use and enjoy them – especially at Thanksgiving and Halloween. You can even add your own interactive element by letting kids watch (or carefully help) carve a jack-o-lantern or bake a pie.
Spooky Pookie (Little Pookie) by Sandra Boynton
Little Pookie doesn't know what he wants to be for Halloween. So he tries on costumes one by one, not finding quite the right thing. Until he does!
Ages 4-8 / Pre-K-3rd Grade
Kid del Toro (Lil' Libros) by Chogrin MuÃ±oz, and illustrated by Pakoto Martinez
I loved this book when I saw it at WonderCon last year. Inspired by the fantastical and delightful childhood stories shared by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, Kid del Toro follows young Guillermo as he defies his Abuela to stay up late to read monster stories and unexpectedly meets his very first best friend. This book has the added bonus of teaching language skills. The book opens wide, and the story is in English on one side, Spanish on the other.
A Friend for Ghost by Suzanne Kaufman
It's hard for Ghost to make new friends. Not everyone can see them. And the folks who can see get scared. It all changes when Ghost meets a red balloon – they do everything together – except balloons aren't known for, hanging around. Luckily, sometimes when you're looking for a friend, a friend might find you.
Amara's Farm (Where In the Garden?) by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Samara Hardy
The Where in the Garden series introduces kids to seasonal produce. And it starts with Amara at harvest time. Amara needs a pumpkin for her potluck, so she searches through the farm, discovering apples, cauliflower, eggplant, okra, and more. This book is for younger readers, 3-7, but it also includes a real recipe for yummy molasses pumpkin bread that your child can make to share with their diverse friends at the big potluck!
Boo Stew by Donna L. Washington, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
You may know Goldilocks, but how about Curly Locks? She lives in Toadsuck Swamp and loves to cook – she's just not very good at it. But when the residents get terrorized by daytime Scares, Curly Locks and her unique talents may be their only hope.
Hansel & Gretel by Bethan Woollvin
This is one of many recent reworkings of classic tales â€“ or reworkings of gentrified retellings of classic fairy tales literally meant to scare children. This time, we enter the classic Grimm story through Willow, who was fine just being a humble witch until these naughty, rude kids came around and started eating her house, stealing her magic books, and mucking up spells. She'll just have to do something about it. (And there's an unexpected twist at the end!)
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! based on the Peanuts strips by Charles Schultz and the 1966 animated special, adapted by Kara McMahon, and illustrated by Scott Jeralds,
Do I really have to explain the story of this 56-year-old TV special? It's Halloween night. Charlie Brown has a horrible costume; kids go trick or treating; Linus waits for the Great Pumpkin, etc., etc. Introduce your kids to the book, cause who knows if Apple TV+ will let non-subscribers see it this year.
Ages 8-12 / 4th-8th Grade
Nina Soni, Halloween Queen by Kashmira Sheth, illustrated by Jenn Kocsmiersky
Nina Soni is a competitive, if easily distracted, Indian-American girl who always has to come out on top. When searching for special costume pieces, she finds empty boxes in the basement and decides to create an impressively scary haunted house. That was the plan anyway. The Nina Soni books are good short chapter books that also subtly teaches about Indian and Hindu culture as she shares about her life. Fans of Disney+'s Ms. Marvel will definitely enjoy them.
Middle School Bites: Night of the Vam-Wolf-Zom by Steven Banks, illustrated by Mark Fearing
Tom the Vam-Wolf-Zom is back – and so is the zombie that bit him – in this monstrously funny series about a boy who's dying to fit in. Eleven-year-old Tom was bit by a vampire, a werewolf, and a zombie right before the first day of middle school. Yeah. Now add all the normal middle school stuff on top of being the world's only Vam-Wolf-Zom. Thankfully, his zombie sire's pretty cool.
The Tell-Tale Heart & Other Tales by Edgar Allan Poe.
Some folks want to reserve Poe for high school, but this collection of the author's beloved short stories is a good introduction to the author and his gothic sensibilities without being (too) nightmare-inducing. Along with “The Tell-Tale Heart,” we have “The Pit and The Pendulum,” “Cask of Amontillado,” “The Masque of the Red Death” and a few others. Plus, they're all quick reads they'll start to enjoy before they realize they “don't like reading.”
Black Sand Beach 3: Have You Seen the Darkness? by Richard Fairgray
Kelsey and Casey visited Black Sand Beach in the 90s, back when it was a legit beach town with boogie boards, ice cream, and T-shirt shops. But they weren't on a summer escape. They were tagging along on their dad's monster-hunting mission. They found one. And it ate them. But are the ghosts Dash befriended really his pals – or evil wearing their faces? Dash and his living friends will have to find some way to defeat the evil, before Darkness takes Dash for his own.
The Candy Mafia by Lavie Tidhar, illustrated by Daniel Duncan
When you outlaw candy, only the outlaws will have candy! Nelle Faulkner is a preteen Sam Spade, reminiscent of Joseph Gordon Levitt's Brendan in Brick. When notorious candy gangster Eddie de Menthe asks for her help finding a missing teddy bear, Nelle Faulkner is on the case. But when her client goes missing, she'll first have to unmask the true faces behind the smuggling ring.
Whispering Pines by Heidi Lang & Kati Bartkowski.
When 12-year-old Rae Carter moves to Whispering Pines, CT, she's determined to be normal. So no talk of aliens and her dad's mysterious disappearance. But when children start disappearing, Rae finds herself teamed up with very abnormal ghost hunter Caden to solve the twisty supernatural mystery.
Only If You Dare: 13 Stories of Darkness and DoomÂ by Josh Allen, illustrated by Sarah J. Coleman
A threatening board game. A snowman that refuses to melt. Even your own heartbeat has its secrets. Drawing on his own love of Poe, master storyteller Josh Allen brings thirteen nightmare scenarios involving everyday objects to life in this page-turning follow-up to Out to Get You: 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe that's perfect for budding horror junkies. With a glow in the dark cover!
Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts by Dianne K. Salerni
Murderous ghosts and buried family secrets threaten young Eleanor and Alice Roosevelt in this thrilling middle-grade novel that puts a supernatural spin on alternate history. It's 1898 in New York City and ghosts exist among humans. When unusual spirits take up residence at the Roosevelt house, introverted Eleanor and unruly Alice develop an unlikely friendship as they explore the family's dark, complicated history. It's up to them to destroy both ghosts and come to terms with their family's losses.
Ghost Hunter's Daughter by Dan Poblocki
Lucas' grandmother can speak to the dead. And Lucas might have inherited her â€œgift.â€ Especially when the new girl's dead mom shows up. Whether she wants to or not, Claire is drawn into a weird partnership with Lucas, as they search for her missing dad – a famous TV ghost hunter who disappeared while on a night search. Great for young fans of the show Supernatural.
Ages 14+ / High School and Up
The Ghosts of Rose Hill by R. M. Romero
Magic will burn you up. Aspiring violinist and biracial Jewish girl Ilana finds love and herself while helping free the spirit of the shy, sweet ghost boy she met in a Prague cemetery. Based on the author's experiences working to maintain Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe, The Ghosts of Rose Hill is a modern fairytale about embracing your power, facing your monsters, and loving deeply enough to transcend a century.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Called the greatest haunted house story ever written, Jackson's novel is, of course, the inspiration for the Netflix series as well as two previous movie adaptations. The 1959 gothic horror classic is best known for eliciting an emotional, rather than fearful response. Elements that Jackson introduced or adapted for this novel still influence horror on the page today. It's even said to have inspired Stephen King in the writing of Rose Red, along with the real-life Winchester House.
Murder for the Modern Girl by Kendall Kulper
1928 Chicago. Gangsters run City Hall, jazz fills the air, and every good girl's purse conceals a flask – and maybe an extra surprise. A soft-spoken genius toils away in the city morgue, desperate to unearth the science behind his gift for shapeshifting. Meanwhile, a ravishing young mind reader prowls the streets for men to murder. In a Promising Young Woman twist, she only uses her power to take down the men who would victimize young girls. Love wasn't in the cards for either of them – but it is now.
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
Considered to be the original gothic thriller, It tells the story of Manfred, the prince of Otranto, who battles a mysterious curse to secure his family castle. When his son is crushed to death on his wedding day, Manfred divorces his wife and marries the boy's fiance Isabella. It mixes realism with the supernatural, giving us the first secret passages, clanging trapdoors, hidden identities, and vulnerable heroines. The story heavily influenced Guillermo Del Toro when he was making the film Crimson Peak.
Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White
In this post-apocalyptic thriller, trans boy Benji teams up with an LGBTQ+ youth center to take down the fundamentalist cult who turned him into a monster. The same cult that brought about Armageddon. Their only hope is to stop the cultists before Benji loses control – or is he being manipulated by his new friends too?
Shade: The Complete Trilogy: A Re-Imagining of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by Merrie Destefano
When Mary Wollstonecroft Godwin accepted an invitation to Lord Byron's house party deep in the Swiss Alps, she hoped it would serve as a welcome distraction from her broken heart. Instead, she finds herself surrounded by enigmatic guests with their own dangerous secrets to hide. DeStefano takes the real-life events that led to the penning of Frankenstein and mashes them up with elements from the other fireside stories told at Byron's house – from giant, shape-shifting wolves to enigmatic and impossibly charming man-like creatures who crave the taste of virgin blood. Don't go out after dark.
The Bitterwine Oath by Hannah West
San Solano, Texas has experienced two instances of ritualistic murder. Years apart, 12 men were killed horrifically, and 18-year-old Nat Colter is starting to believe her great-great-grandmother's magical sisterhood of wronged women might be connected to the deaths. But on which side? Urban legend or supernatural protectors – Nat must choose which to believe if she hopes to save her town.
Adult / Honorable Mentions
My personal favorite ghost story is Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas. The whole 7-book series is good, but the original has all the scares and weirdness needed, with a man who sees the spirits of the restless dead (and one not so restless deceased Alfred Hitchcock), as well as bodochs – evil spirits who drag the guilty to hell.
This is always a great time of year to revisit the classic horror you love. Whether it's rereading Bram Stoker's Dracula (or one of his great grand-nephew Dacre's contributions to the lore), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or HP Lovecraft's twisted Chthonic tales, there are plenty of scary stories out there for those of us who feel more grown up.
So leave Netflix off for a change and let your imagination scare you – and your kids more than some jump scares from the latest reboot of Nightmare on Elm Street.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Paul Rose Jr is the Editor in Chief of Wealth of Geeks & manages the Associated Press program for The Insiders network. He has worked as TV News Producer, Forensic Analyst, and Train Conductor, among many other things. He’s the former TV Editor for InfuzeMag and owns more books, DVDs, and comics than most people have seen in their lifetimes. When he’s not writing or editing on Wealth of Geeks, he exercises his creative muscle writing screenplays and acting in film and television in Los Angeles, CA.