Posts Tagged Halloween books

Should Parents Let Their Kids Read Scary Books?

It’s the season of all things spooky, and readers of all ages are reaching for scary books. But for middle-graders, should parents, teachers, and librarians step in and vet kids’ frightening picks, or let their newly-independent readers decide for themselves how much spookiness they can handle?

To get advice, I turned to two experts: Derek Furr, Associate Professor of Literature & Dean of Teacher Education at Bard College, a reading specialist and former schoolteacher, and Trish Grace Malone, a children’s book author and psychotherapist based in the Hudson Valley. 

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

To start, it’s totally common if the children you know love reading frightening tales. After all, Malone says, “Scary stories are as old as storytelling and they fulfill important human needs. They draw us in with an immediate and compelling message – What would I or could I do if I were in this kind of scary situation? We are hard-wired by evolution to be very interested in how to survive,”

“There is satisfaction, even a kind of physical pleasure, that comes from not knowing, wanting to know, and finding out.”

A frightening page-turner’s attraction may be the same reason that such texts appeal to adults, adds Furr. “When reading a novel for pleasure, most of us read for the plot. A burning question pulls us in, suspense keeps us turning the pages, and a resolution is gratifying (especially if we’ve been right!) There is satisfaction, even a kind of physical pleasure, that comes from not knowing, wanting to know, and finding out.”

Beyond the engrossing thrills and chills, scary books can be beneficial for kids for a variety of reasons.  According to Malone, these books “Teach us lessons, like a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign for the psyche. Children need to know what might put them in danger. It might not be safe to trust a stranger with a house made of cookies and candy. Children also can feel a vicarious sense of courage and triumph by reading about how to defeat the monsters that lurk in dark corners.”

And Furr says that when he taught middle school, his students “devoured” the Goosebumps and Animorphs books, and that doing so seemed to set them up for more challenging ‘horror’ like Poe and Shirley Jackson down the line. Any genre that gets kids reading at this stage is, in his opinion, fantastic. “Remember that the intermediate years (grades four through nine) are crucial for the development of reading fluency—that is, increased reading speed by rapid word/vocabulary recognition and a sense of prosody. Reading volume–just the sheer amount of reading that a young person does, regularly–correlates with fluency and vocabulary development. Unsurprisingly, it has also been shown to correlate with academic achievement.”

“Exerting some kind of creative control over what scares us is one of the most powerful ways to deal with our fears.” 

I asked both my experts if parents should intervene if they’re concerned their student is going to scare themselves silly. Furr says, “I always think that it’s best to follow the child, especially if they’re reading,” but if your concern is that the subject matter may be inappropriate, he suggests reading along with the young person so you can discuss the book together.

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Image by Peter H from Pixaba

Malone believes that most kids are smart about choosing the level of scary they can tolerate, and typically stop reading if the material is too much for them, but, “if you have a child who is dealing with anxiety, they may need support in avoiding scary stuff that other kids their age find fun, especially as they may feel some shame at their own sensitivity.”

But facing their fears in a safe way — inside the pages of an amazing book or story — is healthy and enjoyable for most #kidlit readers. And, Malone adds, “Ultimately, exerting some kind of creative control over what scares us is one of the most powerful ways to deal with our fears. That drives a lot of writers to write scary stuff in the first place, including me.”


Trish Grace Malone, a children’s book author and psychotherapist based in the Hudson Valley 

Derek Furr, Associate Professor of Literature & Dean of Teacher Education at Bard College

Scary Stories Via Podcast – Halloween Isn’t Just for Books

creeping hour logo

It’s the most wonderful time of the year ….. for scary stories and books about things that go bump in the night! Halloween lovers rejoice as visions of zombies, witches, ghosts, werewolves, even cuddle bunnies (thanks to MUF contributor Jonathan Rosen) dance eerily through our heads.

Jonathan Rosen, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies

Slime and blood, clacking bones and freakishly long teeth, and of course a soul-rending howl or two — they’re all the stuff of a good MG scare. Plus, they might also pack an added benefit by showing children ways to navigate some of the darker emotions they’ll face — fear, anxiety, anger — in a safe space. (As long as they do, in fact, live in a safe space they can return to when their book is finished.)

But the printed page is not the only place we can expose our children to scary Halloween-esque fiction.  In today’s on-demand world,  scary stories via podcast is also an increasingly popular way to get your fix of a good scary yarn.

The Podcast

The online world of pre-recorded storytelling is growing by leaps and bounds, and we’re about to meet a new and quite talented contributor to the genre of fiction podcast in just a minute. But before we get to that, let’s just be clear. Listening to stories isn’t new. Audiobooks have been around for decades — formerly quaintly known as “books on tape.” (Like, you know, cassettes. Smile.)

The Golden Age of Radio

Before that … some of us (like me) are old enough that our parents actually listened to books on LIVE RADIO. “Let’s Pretend,” “The Lone Ranger,” “The Amazing Adventures of Superman,” and more were serialized fiction nearly a hundred years ago, in the 1930’s. Of course, the offering wasn’t nearly as culturally or thematically diverse as today’s fare, but then neither were the printed books.

The War of the Worlds

Some of those stories were QUITE scary.

Orson Wells narrates the War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds was a fictionalized news broadcast aired on CBS radio in 1938. The radio play narrated an alien invasion in progress–and panicked a whole generation of listeners. Its effects were enormous–so many people believed it was actually happening, they jumped in their cars, trying to escape. For author Elie Lichtschein, creator of the podcast The Creeping Hour, (produced by WGBH radio in Boston, MA) that thrill of fear inspires his writing today.

The Creeping Hour

The Creeping Hour podcast is a five-episode anthology — plenty of opportunity for scary stories via podcast. It’s hosted by “The Creeps” — teenage friends and monsters themselves. WGBH bills the broadcast as “family-friendly horror… for kids ages 8 – 12 but parents shouldn’t be afraid to listen along as well.”

creeping hour logo

Each “chapter” or episode of The Creeping Hour is hosted by “the Creeps,” three teenage friends who became monsters after hearing too many scary stories.  

Interview with Elie Lichtschein, creator of The Creeping Hour:

We had a chance to interview Elie about his podcast and how he created the vibe of an old-time horror show for today’s listeners.

MUF: What’s the origin story for “The Creeping Hour?”

EL: Great question! The short answer is that last autumn I approached Nina Porzucki (who’s the Managing Producer of Podcasts at WGBH) about co-producing a horror anthology series podcast for kids and was thrilled to find that she was as excited by the idea as I was. Nina brought in Hillary Wells, the executive producer on the series and director of youth media at WGBH, and Kate Ida, a fantastic producer there, and The Creeping Hour was born!

The longer story is that several years before then I was working as a journalist for NewsCorp, covering the news by day and writing dark and weird kids horror stories at night. My team launched an in-house news podcast, which inspired me to try to do the same for the stories I was writing. My first iteration was called Middle Grade Horror was much more low-fi and DIY-feel and published on the Jewish Coffee House podcast network. But it was instrumental in teaching me the ropes of writing kids audio and also helped me meet people who were and remain strong champions of kids audio programming, and helped pave a path to The Creeping Hour.)

Podcast or Print?

MUF: Why did you choose to go with scary stories via podcast for your distribution rather than print an anthology and turn it into an audiobook?

EL: I was thinking mainly of speed – I wrote these episodes with my co-writer, Annie Kronenberg, in April/May of this year and they’re out in polished final form now, in October! That speed from ideas to script to production to final product is just incredible and not something I’d have found as easily if I tried to publish an anthology and then convert it / sell it as an audiobook.

MUF: Why did you choose to team with WGBH instead of an independent production?

EL: I was looking for a production partner who could nicely complement the skills and experience I’d be bringing to the project. WGBH, with its resources, reach, and bevy of fantastic projects, seemed like a great co-partner. And they absolutely have been, at every part of the pre, production, and post stage of creating these five episodes. It’s been beyond a pleasure to work with them, especially Kate, Hillary, and Nina, and this project would look and sound vastly different without their contributions.

Writing the Shows

MUF: Who writes the stories/episodes, and are they also available in book form – or is there a plan to publish the anthology?

EL: I wrote the scripts with Annie Kronenberg, a fantastic writer I met through a friend who oversees the Writers House editorial internship program, which we both went through. Annie took the lead on writing the second episode, “Out of the Wind,” and I took the lead on the others. There’s no current plan in place to publish the stories in other formats, although the idea is tempting!

MUF: If they don’t write the stories, are the three hosts authors? Actors?

EL: All three of them are screen and VO actors, but Kizzmett Pringle (who voices Axe) and Alexis Collins (who voices Weta) do more screen and stage work, and Matthew Gumley (who voices Toro) is also a rock musician and performs a bunch.

The Creeps:

The Creeping Hour Hosts

Behind the Stories

MUF: What are the inspirations for the episodes?

EL: Hmm, I mean I’d say the overall inspiration is to scare kids ;-). But we tried coming up with stories that could be aurally frightening in new ways. These include building scares by focusing on repetitive words (like the “Dirt spy! Dirt spy!”) in “Meet the Creeps”) or through pairing creepy monster sounds with creepy natural world noises ( like the monster / weather-based scares in “Out of the Wind”), or using a creepy piece of music as almost a character that uses sound to latch onto its victims (as in the season finale, “The Beat,” which comes out on Halloween).

MUF: What’s your favorite episode – the one you’d point new listeners to?

EL: I really love what we did with the final episode of the series – “The Beat” – and can see it being a great starting point to get listeners listening. (It’s not up yet, though, so I don’t have the link unfortunately)

MUF NOTE: “The Beat” will drop ON HALLOWEEN ….. 

I also think the second episode, “Out of the Wind” (Click on link to listen to a snippet of this episode.)

MUF: What’s next for “The Creeping Hour?”

EL: Good question! Well, there are still two more episodes yet to drop in this first season, but hopefully we’ll keep telling creepy stories that continue to scare kids in ways that make creative use of the audio medium.

Elie’s Halloween Book List and Podcast List

MUF: What are your favorite middle-grade fiction podcasts that AREN’T yours?

EL: I loved Mars Patel and just came across Adam Gidwitz’s Grimm podcast with Pinna, which looks incredible, can’t wait to dive in.

MUF: What are some of your favorite printed spooky Halloween books for middle grade readers?

I just read Apocalypse Taco, which is a graphic novel by Nathan Hale, and LOVED it. An old classic is the Tintin story, Flight 714, which brings the intrepid boy reporter face to face with aliens and mind control and villains’ lairs hidden deep inside active volcanoes. Also, I can’t get past Eric Kimmel’s picture book, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, which has some of the most horrifying monster illustrations (done by Trina Schart Hyman) in any kid book I’ve ever come across (and also riffs lightly on the “Shaydm” that appear in episode three of The Creeping Hour). Also, you can’t go wrong with Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and I loved Jonathan Auxier’s The Night Gardener. Cf course then there’s Goosebumps – some of my favorites are The Horror at Camp Jellyjam, Deep Trouble, and A Night in Terror Tower.

The Creeping Hour Artwork

EL:  The artwork for the series was done by the incredible Parker S. Jackson. Just want to give him a shout out because he’s so great!

And WGBH made these incredible Snapchat filters that can turn you into a Creep! You can find them here:!e3f16

How to Find The Creeping Hour:

Listen here.

Thanks so much, Elie; it’s been a pleasure.

And … HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all our MUF creeps!


Elie Lichtschein

Podcast Author Lichtschein

Elie Lichtschein is a writer and producer based in Manhattan. He’s the writer and co-creator of The Creeping Hour podcast (WGBH/PRX, October 2019). His fiction has appeared in It’s A Whole Spiel (Knopf, September 2019). He’s currently working on a middle grade adventure novel with PJ Library. Visit him online at or on social media @elielicht

Spooky Roundtable: Oh, The Horror!

To honor the very scary month of October, we asked five frightening fiction writers (well, their books are, anyway) to talk about writing novels sure to give middle grade readers the willies.

Marina Cohen is an elementary school teacher with a Master’s degree in French literature; she’s the author of several award-nominated middle grade and upper middle grade horror novels for children and young teens including THE INN BETWEEN, THE DOLL’S EYE, GHOST RIDE, and coming in 2019, A BOX OF BONES.

Josh Berk has written four books for kids and teens. Author Saundra Mitchell is his co-author for the comic horror story CAMP MURDERFACE, due out Spring of 2020, about two kids who go to a camp in 1980s Ohio that has a mysterious and terrifying past that refuses to stay buried.

Robert Kent writes middle grade novels under the name Rob Kent: BANNEKER BONES AND THE GIANT ROBOT BEES and the upcoming BANNEKER BONES AND THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE. He runs the popular blog for writers, MIDDLE GRADE NINJA.

Michael Dahl lives in a haunted house in Minnesota. He is the author of more than 100 books for kids, including the series LIBRARY OF DOOM, RETURN TO THE LIBRARY OF DOOM (too bad there wasn’t a Son of Library of Doom!). His new newest series is the SCHOOL BUS OF HORRORS.

S. A. Larsen loves to explore imaginary passageways to hidden worlds with all sorts of creepy creatures. She also thinks cemeteries are cool. Her work includes the award-winning middle grade fantasy-adventure MOTLEY EDUCATION, and she has just finished Book 2 in the series, DEAD ALLEY, which will be out next year.


What made you want to write scary stories?

Michael: I’ve always read kids’ books, and still do. That’s my favorite area of literature. And I started horror because I myself am frightened of lots of things. Lots. From jewelry to airplanes to wet paper to monkeys. I knew I could draw on those strong emotions to write something real and genuine.

Marina: I think a story can be exceptionally creepy when told through the point of view of a young protagonist. There’s a greater contrast when you juxtapose innocence with evil, don’t you think? Although my novels are middle-grade, beware—my stories can have some pretty dark elements.

S.A.: I’ve always been drawn to the intrigue that lies beneath the surface of scary books and films. I guess it made me feel brave. Plus, I love cemeteries. In high school, I’d walk around our local cemetery taking in all the names of those who’d passed on and wonder who they were and what kind of life they led. Of course, my mind would play tricks on me, making me think I saw something move from a nearby tree or gravestone. And crypts have always fascinated me. We think we know what’s in there, but do we really?

Rob: The scarier stories were always my favorites growing up. Scary stories aren’t always good, but they’re rarely boring. Now that I’m an adult writing books for kids, I’m mindful to write the books I would’ve most wanted to read when I was a kid dreaming of growing up to write books for kids. Not to compare myself to J.K. Rowling (dream on, self), but I think some of the scariest books for MG readers are the Harry Potter books. I always thought the scariest thing in the whole series was that Ron’s pet rat was secretly a grown man in disguise for years sleeping in his room.

Why do you think kids like to be scared?

S.A.: There are a lot of areas of real life that can be scary. I think being spooked with fictional horror can feel safe and even funny at times for kids. The anticipation of what’s coming next is a big draw. It feels like risk-taking, thus making them feel brave. I remember watching scary movies with my best friend in junior high. We’d hold pillows to our faces in anticipation of what was coming, scream once it came, and then laugh silly right after.

Marina: It’s fun! That is, for those of us who enjoy heart-pounding edge-of-your-seat-thrills. Truthfully, I believe there is science behind it. (I love science and fit it into my stories whenever I can!) It has to do with neurotransmitters and the hormones released when the body feels fear. You can get a huge rush out of feeling scared when your brain actually knows you’re completely safe. For some people, being scared simply makes them happy.

Josh: Life is scary, so if things get really scary in the book/movie/whatever but then work out okay, that can give you hope for life doing the same. It’s controlled fear, fun like roller coasters. If you felt like a roller coaster would actually kill you, I think attendance at amusement parks would be much lower. That’s just a guess, as I can’t go on roller coasters, as anything spinnier than an office chair makes me barf. (Also please don’t spin my office chair too quickly.)

Rob: There are very real reasons to be afraid of the world and anxious about our tenuous position in it. Lots of bad things could happen to us at any minute and from time to time, they do. Whatever our problems are, usually they’re not as bad as someone being chased and possibly devoured by a monster. And if your problems are that bad, you should be running to safety, not reading.

Who/what is the scariest character in your book?

Michael: In the School Bus of Horrors it’s the bus. And the bus driver. This strange bus shows up at different schools on different days, maybe for a field trip, or it’s the after-school bus, or it might be the bus taking the high school football team home from an away game. No one can really see the driver. He sits behind an opaque, plastic security wall around the driver seat.

I’m sure the book is super scary, but the cover for FRIDAY NIGHT HEADLIGHTS totally cracked me up.

S.A.: Seeing how MOTLEY EDUCATION utilizes creatures from Norse mythology, some readers might think it’s the fire giant that chases the kids through the boneyard (aka cemetery) or the ginormous serpent that invades Motley’s gymnasium. Maybe even Fenrir the wolf, whose paws are the size of small trucks. But I’d say it’s the doors that keep appearing to Ebony Charmed, the main character. She never knows what she’ll find behind each door.

Josh: In CAMP MURDERFACE, there are ghosts and murders and a near drowning in a pit of dry bones. But the scariest thing has to be the Vampire Devils. I honestly don’t like talking about them too much as I have sort of convinced myself that they are real, and I am afraid of them.

Marina: I try to layer my stories with all sorts of creepy characters and concepts. What kids find scary in my stories is not as scary for adults. What adults find most frightening seems to slip past my young audience. In THE INN BETWEEN, young readers find the basement scene and the character they discover there creepiest. Adults find Emma’s disappearance far more frightening, as it’s unfortunately far more real. Similarly, in THE DOLL’S EYE, young readers find the kobold and the dolls scary, whereas adults know it’s definitely the father character who is creepiest.

Rob: The giant robot bees in Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees. I’ve been unusually afraid of bees since I was a kid and I’ve long had a recurring nightmare about being chased by all-metal bees the size of cars. They’re the scariest monsters in any of my books for any age group, and Banneker Bones is the only character I’ve written about who’s brave enough to face them (with a jet pack and smoke bombs and a bunch of gadgets).

What was deliciously scary for you as a kid?

S.A.: We used to spend summers up to camp when I was a kid. Our nights consisted of a fire, roasting marshmallows, and playing hide and seek. I loved playing hide and seek in the creepy woods.

Josh: I was a very anxious child (and adult) and to be honest don’t really know what “deliciously scary” feels like. I know it’s a thing that other people have experienced but I do not recall such a feeling.

Marina: I’ve been drawn to scary things ever since I can remember. My mother used to read to me from an old book of German fairytales that were pretty dark. Even at a super young age my favorite Saturday morning cartoon was Scooby-Doo. But I’d say what frightened me most as a kid—and even now as and adult—was what was not said. Not seen. What was left to the dark recesses of my imagination. In seventh grade my teacher took our class to see a high school performance of The Monkey’s Paw. That slow knock, knock, knock leaving me to imagine what might await me on the other side of the door was most deliciously frightening.

Oh my gosh, I had the same experience with my mom reading me The Monkey’s Paw!

Rob: The Witches by Roald Dahl. I can’t imagine anything scarier than being a boy trapped in the back of a hotel conference room and discovering the women occupying it are actually witches (unless they were bees disguised as witches). I’ve written a long review on my love for that book and discussed it in a podcast.

Michael: I loved monster movies: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, Godzilla. The Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys in Oz. And I was a huge fan of “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits.” My cousins and I watched that TZ episode one night with William Shatner trapped on the plane with a monster out on the wing — “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” — Yikes! We watched it at my cousins’ house, which was a former logger boarding house in the middle of nowhere in northern Minnesota. Nothing around but miles and miles of fields and trees. And anything lurking in the darkness.

That particular TZ episode has stuck with me for oh, half a century now. I still sometimes think I’ll see that creature when I’m flying at night!

What was too scary for you as a kid?

Josh: Oh, everything.

Rob: I was frightened of Darth Vadar, the Audry II from Little Shop of Horrors, and even Large Marge from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I was embarrassingly easy to frighten, which probably led me to writing horror as an adult. Horror is more fun when you get to be the one doing all the scaring. Scares you receive when you’re a child stay with you the rest of your life. Writing scary stories for kids is a big responsibility.

S.A.: One night when I was eight or nine years old, I tiptoed downstairs to catch a glimpse of the scary movie my mom was watching. It was The Shining by Stephen King. She was pretty angry when she found me, and I think I slept in my parent’s room for a week after that.

Michael: I watched an old TV movie about the pharaohs and the building of the pyramids. At the end of the movie, an evil queen gets trapped, buried alive inside the pyramid by giant slabs of stone blocking all the passageways. I was sure a stone slab was going to come down through my doorway and trap me forever in my bedroom! I still get nightmares about that.

Writing horror for middle grade, how do you tell when scary becomes too scary?

Josh: I am a bad judge of this because as I might have mentioned, everything is too scary for me. I was legit terrified by ARE YOU MY MOTHER? as a kid. Is it just me? Probably. But that bird loses his mom and then his mind?! No, a lion is not your mother, bird–you’re a bird. Neither is a construction vehicle. You are clearly delusional and mad with grief. He seems forever destined to wander around as a deranged orphan.Who wrote this, Cormac McCarthy? The happy ending doesn’t make up for all the trauma, P.D. Eastman!

Marina: Not every book is right for every kid, and not every kid enjoys scary things. But those who do can handle more than adults often give them credit for. Readers bring their own experience to a book, and adults can forget they bring with them a deeper knowledge and understanding of the world than younger readers who experience the darker concepts at a far more superficial level. What you won’t find in my books is graphic violence and gore or language and content inappropriate for middle grade readers. What I promise is more than a few shudders and shivers and hopefully some deeper messages to ponder about life and death, survival, tradition, choices and consequences, bravery, and humanity.

S.A.: I tend to write these scenes with more creepy description than action, which feels safer, and I always interject humorous dialog from the characters to balance out the horror or scary parts. I also make sure to give the characters an obvious way out or rescue from the scene, even though I rarely let the characters use it. This comforts the reader that the characters will somehow make it out.

Michael: There are certain things I decide outright that I will not include in a scary story. Kidnappings, gore, abusive parents, anything to do with the Slender Man. This is my own personal list of taboos. I don’t have a lot of pain in my stories. They are creepy and chilling and unsettling and sometimes, gross. But I make sure to not cross the lines that I have set for myself. And I visit schools throughout the country, so I can talk with students, and most importantly librarians and teachers, to see how the kids are reacting to my books. So far, so good. And at every school, when I ask the kids if they want to hear a scary story, from Kindergarten to 6th grade, they all raise their hands!

Find these chilling authors on Twitter:
Josh & Saundra:@joshberkbooks @SaundraMitchell
Marina @marinacohen
SA @SA_Larsen
Rob(ert) Kent @MGNinja