Don’t we all have at least one fiber in us that loves a good, scary story? As a species, we’ve been telling scary stories almost from the time we stood up and began to walk upright on two legs. Stories that have become integral to our human existence. Our advancement as a species is built on the back of a story. We pass our experiences down from generation to generation through story.
Scary stories play an integral role in shaping our existence. From entertainment to cautionary tale, to moral plays, to simply visceral enjoyment, stories of ghosts, monsters, urban legends, and creatures of the night serve their purpose well. Frankenstein, Dracula, the Brothers Grimm, all use a scare to define our limits and our psychological fears.
When my siblings and I were growing up in the early 1970’s, my dad never failed to send a shiver down our spines with this one thing he did. He would cup his hands around his mouth to get a 1930’s radio special effect and mimic the introduction to The Shadow radio drama.
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”
Even now, it brings a little smile to my face. The joy of remembering a dark hallway with us boys supposedly going to sleep in our bedroom and Dad, out in the living room, saying the Shadow’s introduction in his deep voice and with an emphasis on the word “evil”. I would smile as my heart raced and Mom would shush Dad about scaring us boys when we should be going to sleep. I would pull the covers tight and have visions of The Shadow with his black cape, hat, and mask. Scary (but not too scary) felt like a warm blanket. That’s one thing a good scary story does. It wraps around you and gives a familiar and slightly uncomfortable spine-tingling feeling.
Which brings me back to the beauty of a good middle-grade scare. These books are important. They do serve a purpose. Claire Quigley wrote a great blog post addressing scary books in June of 2016 at BookRiot.com. In the post, she nailed the explanation of why scary books belong in a prominent space in kidlit.
“These creepy stories have an important place in our literature, and our culture at large. Being a child is a scary, strange and unsettling time, and the stories that articulate these anxieties help children navigate the world, all the way through to adulthood. Life can be challenging, and at times upsetting, but you’ll also be equipped to battle through it, just like the heroes and heroines of those creepy tales. And let’s not forget, at the end of the day – those spine-chilling stories are always such good fun!”
Below is a list of my top 13 scary MG book recommendations. Books that are perfect for late summer nights when the warm, humid air calls for a creepy chill and reading by lantern or flashlight in a quiet, dark woods or on a windy nighttime beach is in peak season.
HOODOO by Ronald L. Smith
Debts paid by body appendages rarely are for the greater good.
THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman
A different breed of adoption tale.
THE NIGHT GARDENER by Jonathan Auxier
Never trust an old tree growing in the house.
THE NEST by Kenneth Oppel
Wasps are such beautiful & talented creatures.
TEXAS GHOST STORIES, FIFTY FAVORITES FOR THE TELLING by Doc Moore & Tim Tingle
The Hairy Man + a bonus chapter on how to tell a ghost story!
THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste
Walk away from yellow-eyed trickster creatures named Severine.
DOLL BONES by Holly Black
A doll is just a doll. Or is it?
THE GHOST OF GRAYLOCK by Dan Poblocki
Is exploring the abandoned asylum in the woods ever a good idea?
CORALINE by Neil Gaiman
Meet the parents; the other parents.
THE RIVERMAN by Aaron Starmer
Accepting a biography writing gig from the neighbor girl.
SKELETON MAN by Joseph Bruchac
Always follow the talking rabbit.
SCHOOL OF THE DEAD by Avi
Beware the creepy uncle who helps plan your future.
And for the 13th and terminal selection…
THE THIEF OF ALWAYS
by Clive Barker
Rictus, Jive, Marr, Carna, and Mr. Hood.