With Halloween on the horizon, here are a selection of spooky reads for any age from birth and up. The lower age guides are not exact, every child is different, and there is no upper age limit for books as far as I’m concerned.
Most of these books were published this year, but I sneaked in a couple extra.
0+: Boo!: Fhiona Galloway & Jonathan Litton (Little Tiger Press, 2015)
This colourful board book uses gradually decreasing eye-holes on each page as a variety of (extremely cute) spooks try to work out who said Boo! With rhyming repetition and bright colours this should catch the eye of babies. Toddlers will love the chunky pages (and that you can turn pages using the eyeholes!) and I can see this being one being quoted regularly. Danger Girl (6) also loves this, and the text is simple enough for her to read too. Not just for Halloween, a very cute not-all-that-spooky introduction to ‘scary’ staples (pumpkins, cats, witches, bats…) Did I mention it’s cute?
0+: Ten Spooky Skeletons: Garry Parsons (Little Tiger Press, 2015)
Glow in the dark alert! We all love a glow-in-the-dark book in the Chaos household, and spooky skeletons are even more of a hit. Not only the cover, but the final spread are glow in the dark. And not only that, but there are peek-through sections on every page too. This book is just too much fun! Garry Parsons is a fabulous illustrator, and his adorably cute skeletons rhyme and count bouncily through the pages. DG (6) and MG (8) both still enjoyed this book, though it’s probably aimed mainly at 2-5 year olds. I can’t recommend this one highly enough – will keep small ones amused for hours. (Note: a torch held near the glow in the dark pages in a darkened room recharges the glow quickly and is such fun. If you’re children aren’t scared in the dark, make sure the last pages have been left in bright light to ‘charge’ first, and then read by torchlight…)
3+: Fright Club: Ethan Long (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2015)
That gorgeous front cover drew me into my local bookshop, and although I didn’t mean to buy anything, I was shortly walking out with a copy (I say ‘shortly’ – actually there was a lengthy look at the shelves as usual, and an even lengthier chat about books, phone apps, and life with the fabulous bookshop people…) DG (6) was similarly drawn to this book first when I laid out a few suggestions for a bedtime story, although she did complain that it wasn’t scary enough! The monsters really are adorably cute (and, though it’s a shame I need to mention this at all, they are an actual equal mix of male and female characters – WOOHOO!!) and this is one we will read over and over. The story is funny, as a cute bunny tries to join Fright Club, and inclusive. Extremely gorgeous illustrations, fabulous layout, eye-catching cover. We love Fright Club.
3+: The Ride-By-Nights: Walter De La Mere & Carolina Rabei (Faber & Faber, 2015)
Making classical texts accessible to the very young like this, allows an increased vocabulary to permeate into their minds. At least, that’s what I think, and I don’t think you can get more accessible than this beautifully illustrated poem. The pictures show both traditional witches flying through the stars (a basic introduction to constellations is in the text) and children trick or treating in a village. I was completely put off by ‘literature’ at school, but find this beautiful and compelling. I could read it over and over, and it makes a perfect bedtime story. DG (6) asked lots of questions as we went through it, and it’s a book that works as well wordless so toddlers and non-readers can pour over the pages alone too. Personally, I want the “And surge pell-mell down the Milky Way.” page as a print to put up. Beautiful.
3+: Seen and Not Heard: Katie May Green (Walker Books, 2014)
In Shiverhawk Hall, in the light of the moon, the children come out of their pictures and run riot. Although not described as ghosts, the children have a very ghostly feel in their old fashioned attire. Beautifully illustrated, this is less creepy and more fun (but if you think of them as ghosts, it can feel a lot spookier!) and children of any age will love the naughty things these children get up to. The text is full of lyrical phrases that are a joy to read aloud (Sticky ringlets, jammy ribbons, fizzy tummy, “I feel sick.”) and the muted palette shows their night time antics well. A gorgeous book, not just for Halloween.
3+: No Such Thing: Ella Bailey (Flying Eye Books, 2014)
Often in stories you find children who see shadows and sudden noises as signs of something spooky, which are then shown to be completely ordinary. Georgia in No Such Thing sees simple explanations for things moving round the house, getting broken, or going missing. It’s the pets, or her little brother, or something like that, because honestly who believes in ghosts?! There’s no such thing! But… If you look closely at the pictures, maybe you can spot the ghosts hiding? And in case you missed them, they might appear at the end too! Fabulous fun for children who want to believe in (gentle) spooks, and for keen spotters. A lovely autumnal read, for any time of year!
6+: Mortimer Keene Ghosts on the Loose: Tim Healey & Chris Mould (Hodder Children’s Books, 2014)
Mortimer Keene books are a well loved series in the Chaos household, with five madcap adventures so far from Slime to Aliens to Dinosaurs to Robots. Ghosts on the Loose was the second in the series to be published, and might just be my personal favourite. Told in rhyme, this tale follows another of Mortimer Keene’s inventions gone wrong, with a host of horrific ghosts portrayed with aplomb by the extremely talented Chris Mould (who looks like he’s had a lot of fun inventing fiendish ghouls to fit descriptions including Hooded Black Monk and Victorian Hangman…) Designed to attract reluctant readers, the fun rhyming, copious illustrations, and clever links of characters between books (we like Mr Bevan, who teaches Shakespeare to Year Seven…) and including extra pages of plans, A-Zs, and tips, Ghosts on the Loose is a perfect Halloween read.
6+: Pablo & Jane and The Hot Air Contraption: Jose Domingo (Flying Eye Books, 2015)
I cannot help but love a book which includes dialogue like:
“Muuum, Pablo and I are going out to explore that ruined creepy house on top of the hill, the one that’s filled with monsters and where the radioactive meteorite crashed!”
“Okay darling! Try not to die before dinner time!”
And this is following a page with a map of their local area including the haunted orphanage, the old graveyard, and the abandoned sawmill. Not only that, but this is in wonderful comic strip form. Bliss!
The first 15 pages Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption are a comic strip story, leading on to twelve double spreads packed with creepy critters and things to spot, finishing with a final six pages of comic strip story. This book can be poured over, delighted in, and absorbed for many hours. I find the picture search pages quite overwhelming in detail, which may be because of my aspie brain, but my children happily pour over the pages. I cannot do this book justice, so I recommend you read Mat Tobin’s wonderful review (and grab a copy as soon as you can!)
6+: The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom – Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing, 2015)
Bewitched pirates, hoards of gold, sea hags, and the magical interweb… “Hubble, flubble, toil and trouble, Lanterns burn and cauldron bubble. Bring us pirates on the double!” The Jolley-Rogers return in their second full length adventure, this time bewitched by sea hags with only Bones the dog left to take a message for help to Matilda. The scary hags have a cave full of gold – and bones. Shudder… Can ‘Tilda and a pint-sized Jim Lad get out of this dastardly dilemma? This isn’t a specifically Halloween story, but it’s spooky enough to count, and Jonny Duddle’s pirates deserve a place on any bookshelf. Packed with delicious illustrations, and some pretty spooky moments, one for pirate fans of any age.
6+: Dixie O’Day and the Haunted House: Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy (Random House, 2015)
Dixie and Percy are well loved characters in the Chaos household and in this, the fourth book of the series, the daring duo set off for a fun camping trip. Sadly anything that could go wrong appears to go wrong, and they end up escaping from a soaking wet tent and a grumpy farmer to a spooky old house where a friendly old lady offers them a bed for the night… This is a proper old-fashioned ghost story, with a familiar spooky twist for adults but a great introduction to the style for young children. As ever Shirley Hughes writing and Clara Vulliamy’s illustrations are a delight and the pages are also packed with maps, interviews and a quiz. Perfect as a read aloud, an early reader for confident youngsters, a tempting read for reluctant readers, and a joy for any age. Comfortably spooky, with a very friendly ghost.
8+: Once Upon A Zombie Book One The Colour Of Fear: Billy Phillips & Jenny Nissenson (Toon Studio Publishing, 2015)
Zombie Princesses. Zombie. Princesses. I don’t think I need to write any more to sell this! Once Upon a Zombie is a line of dolls, in the vein of Ever After High / Monster High, but also in the vein of Ever After High, the novel shows well realised characters and an interesting alternate world concept. Being able to travel to fairytale worlds via their writers’ graves is a new concept, and gives the potential of truly global appeal. This particular story starts in London, with two American sisters, and stories of chickpeas appearing in graveyards around the world… The start drags a little if you’re a 6yo (younger than the recommended 8+) so I summarised when reading aloud and DG (6) really liked the concept even though the writing style of the book was too old for her. There are some fun creepy videos on YouTube to promote the book, and the dolls are also available. Will appeal to children who love their fairy tales with a darker twist.
10+: The Graveyard Book: Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2008)
I’ve not read this for years (when it was published in 2008), but I couldn’t exclude it from a list of spooky books. The Graveyard Book is the tale of Bod, a boy raised by ghosts, and the ghosts who raise him, and the man Jack who means to find him and finish his job of killing Bod’s whole family. It starts with a knife, and Neil Gaiman is not one to shy from the creepy for children. It’s suitable for any age that can read, but some parents might find it a little scary. For me, anything written by Neil Gaiman is worth reading, and this is one of his best, and Chris Riddell is a master (again, some parents might find the illustrations a bit scary!) A book I’d put on every child’s bookshelf.
10+: The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst: Griselda Heppel (Matador Books, 2015)
With a mix of history, modern day, spooky school buildings, secret hiding places, supernatural goings on, and a tie-in to Ante’s Inferno (although each stand alone), The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst is an absorbing read. Skipping between past and present leaves you needing more of each story, and wondering how they combine. I’m glad there was redemption available and the novel shows how it is possible to change from bad choices, even when things seem helpless. Griselda’s writing is full of tiny observations that add up to a believable world. Full review here.
Disclosure: Some books received as review copies, others own copies.