I spend most of my time here talking about horror movies, but I love horror literature as well. Growing up, I was a voracious reader, and my reading habits unsurprisingly tended toward the macabre. I have a short list of books I want to recommend to you, most of which were childhood favorites of mine. You can give them to any tiny budding horror fans you may have in your life, but I hope you check them out for yourself as well. Quality children’s literature can be read and enjoyed at any age, and I think the books I have listed below more than qualify.
Bunnicula is a vampire rabbit who sucks the juice out of vegetables. He lives with the Monroe family, whose cat Chester sees Bunnicula for the dastardly
blood- carrot juice-sucker that he is. Written by James Howe, the second and third books in the series are titled Howliday Inn and The Celery Stalks at Midnight. As you can tell, Bunnicula skews younger than the rest of the books on this list, but it is a ridiculously fun series.
I love fairy tales and myths, partly because they are some of the darkest and scariest pieces of literature that exist in the world. If you want a story about murder, torture, and cannibalism, you don’t have to find a book by Stephen King or Clive Barker…just pick up a volume from the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. There is plenty of horror to be found in fairy tales, but my absolute favorite is the story of Baba Yaga.
Baba Yaga is a Slavic witch who lives in a hut that has chicken feet. She flies around in a mortar and wields a pestle, and her hut is protected by a fence of bones. Even for a fairy tale, that is some weird, creepy shit. She is my hero.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was pretty dark — think of all the ingenious ways in which horrid children were dispatched, and remember how delighted Gene Wilder was in the film adaptation when he was scaring the bejeezus out of little kids — but if that’s all you know Roald Dahl for, you are missing out on an exceptional body of work. Dahl wrote modern fairy tales that were every bit as dark and melancholy as the classics children have grown up on for centuries. The Witches, illustrated by Quentin Blake, is a wonderfully scary example of Dahl’s gift for stories that speak to children without ever talking down to them.
The Westing Game
Ellen Raskin’s novel The Westing Game was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I revisited it fairly recently, and it still holds up as an excellent read. It’s not so much a horror story as it is a mystery, but there are plenty of creepy and macabre elements that I think will satisfy horror fans. You should go read it as soon as possible.
The Gashlycrumb Tinies
Edward Gorey is one of my favorite authors and artists. His books and drawings are beautiful and hilariously morbid. If you have young children who are learning to read, I recommend you teach them the ABCs with Gorey’s most famous work The Gashlycrumb Tinies, which begins thusly: “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B is for Basil assaulted by bears…” (Please note: I have no children and I am not a child psychologist, so proceed at your own risk. If you show this to your toddler and they are scarred for life, I take no responsibility. If they end up as an awesome horror fan, though, I will take some of the credit for that.) I have more than a few shelves devoted just to Gorey’s books and drawings. I first encountered his art in the books of another author, though: John Bellairs.
The Chessmen of Doom
It was love at first sight when I encountered John Bellairs’s gothic mystery and horror novels. They were smart, spooky, funny, and fascinating worlds that I wanted to live in forever. If you think solving a mystery in a haunted house sounds like fun, Bellairs is the author for you.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This series is the gold standard in terms of horror literature for kids, as far as I’m concerned. Alvin Schwartz’s stories are terrifically weird and spooky, but the real draw here is Stephen Gammell’s nightmarish art. I’m just going to leave a few of these here for you to enjoy.
Sweet dreams, kiddies.