Halloween undoubtedly will look different this year. What does pandemic trick-or-treating even look like? How could one night of scares compare to every single day of horror this year? But if you’re looking for something to share with your kids this spooky season, there’s no shortage of pleasantly creepy middle grade horror books to read together. Grab some cider and a blanket, and get ready to scare your whole family silly.
New Children’s Horror Favorites
The Jumbies, Tracey Baptiste
This unnerving adventure is rooted in Caribbean folklore and set on an island where malevolent trickster jumbies roam the forest. Incorporating parts of the Haitian tale “The Magic Orange Tree,” The Jumbies finds Corinne La Mer fighting a battle against an enemy she never thought was real.
Camp Murderface, Josh Berk and Saundra Mitchell
The chill of autumn shouldn’t keep you from reading this summer camp mystery, which feels like the spiritual heir to all the R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike scare-fests that stalked my adolescence. The setting is Ohio’s sinister Camp Sweetwater, which has (unfortunately) reopened for the first time in decades.
Small Spaces, Katherine Arden
Haunted book! What could be better to share with your kids than a story about a haunted book? Like most of us, 11-year-old Ollie finds escape in books. When she rescues a mysterious little volume called Small Spaces, however, she gets more than she bargained for, as the next day’s school trip attests to.
Spirit Hunters, Ellen Oh
Who needs a good ghost story that will spook but not traumatize your children? The Raine family has just moved into a new house, which is pretty clearly haunted. Seventh-grader Harper gets proof of this when her younger brother starts acting strangely. Somehow the key to saving her brother relies on Harper unlocking buried memories.
Children’s Horror Classics
The Halloween Tree, Ray Bradbury
For a holiday history lesson, save this short classic for Halloween night. Eight young friends are eager to start trick-or-treating but discover their ringleader Pipkin is missing. With the help of the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud, they’ll traverse time and space on a quest to find Pipkin. Along the way, they learn the origins and variations of Halloween.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls, John Bellairs
While the Jack Black-starring film adaptation is its own special kind of nightmare fuel, consider sharing the original 1972 story with your impressionable young children this year. It’s that classic story of an orphan boy who comes to live with his secretly-a-magician uncle and accidentally kicks off a series of events that could end the world. Tale as old as time!
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
Okay, okay, so this one is a recent classic, but I’ll wager the adventures of Nobody Owens will live long in the imaginations of horror-inclined kids for a long while (much like Gaiman’s other modern children’s classic, Coraline). If you’re unfamiliar, The Graveyard Book is the story of Bod, a perfectly normal boy raised by ghosts in the cemetery.
Bunnicula, Deborah and James Howe
I refuse to end this list without including this seminal work of my own childhood. Forty years after his debut, this vampire rabbit is as wonderfully weird as ever. This book is high-concept storytelling at its finest, with all the action happening under the noses of the Monroe household’s human inhabitants.