Last year, author and general all around cool dude Neil Gaiman made a modest proposal (that had nothing to do with eating human beings): how about we give away books on Halloween instead of – or even in addition to – candy? I read about this on Twitter, and though I like to read, and I love Halloween, I was a little, shall we say, doubtful, that kids would want reading material instead of candy bars.
Regardless, I sat out on my front steps in a highly trafficked area of Brooklyn with a huge tub of delicious candy, and a longbox full of comics. I told kids they could have either, a comic book, or a piece of candy, or one of both, it was up to them – expecting that I would truck my comics upstairs at the end of the night, and be left sadly candy free. To say I was wrong is an understatement. In under an hour, I had to go back upstairs three times to restock the comic book box, eventually giving away over 400 all ages comics to kids, while the candy bowl sat, mostly untouched. And not to go over the top, but it really was one of the most exciting, heart-warming, and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
So this year, to help you guys out, I’m giving you a list of ten awesome, scary books that kids and adults will love, and won’t break the bank. Plus, because I love you guys, a short list of some classics you won’t want to miss!
10. Sally’s Bones
A new, spooky novel by newcomer MacKenzie Cadenhead has all the elements of a Halloween classic: a lonely, lost girl; a dead parent; and her best friend, a skeleton dog. It’s funny, scary, and never talks down to kids, making it the perfect addition to your growing scary library.
9. Crooked Hills
Another recent book, this time by up-and-coming comic book creator Cullen Bunn, the first in a proposed series finds three friends dealing with the undead, witches, and more in the titular town of Crooked Hills. Fans of Bunn’s work on (excellent) comic series like Sixth Gun won’t be disappointed in the scares – or the characterization here. Get in on the ground floor of what may be the next great kids horror series.
8. Scary Godmother
Okay, so this one steers more towards the fun that the actually spooky, but Jill Thompson’s delightful tales of a girl, her Scary Godmother, and the various beasties they meet – and tangle with – is fun for undead kids of all ages.
7. The Halloween Tree
Enough of these new books, you say! Give me a classic, you say! Okay, here goes: from genre legend Ray Bradbury comes a tale of eight boys taken by a mysterious entity around the world, and shown the true roots of Halloween. It’s spooky, it’s scary, and it’s from one of the masters. And, it teaches history in a fun way that’s perfect for any ghost filled night.
We can’t have a list inspired by Gaiman without a Neil Gaiman book, right? Luckily, beyond his many frightening short stories, he’s also written two excellent, upsetting books for kids. And it was a toss-up between this one and The Graveyard Books, but then we got a million tweets telling us to use Coraline, so there you go. The book was actually written because Gaiman felt there wasn’t enough actual horror for kids… And in this case, he was successful. The story of a girl who’s magical fantasy world may not be the best place to escape to made sure we’ll never look at buttons the same way again.
5. Locke & Key
Okay, so Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s horrific comic book masterpiece may be a little on the bloody side for some parents. But the story of the three Locke children, the magical keys they find, and the evil entity who wants them – and everything – dead has enough humor, heart, and outright scares to recommend to readers who just like things that are good.
4. Beasts of Burden
What can we say, Jill Thompson knows Halloween! This series, by Thompson, with words by Evan Dorkin, shows how our pets are constantly protecting us from supernatural evil. Alternately, scary, sad, and very, very cute, Beasts of Burden is a literate series for families who want a nice mix between The X-Files and The Dog Whisperer.
Speaking of adorable, dangerous animals, the Bunnicula series is a classic for a reason. The tale of a vampire bunny who sucks vegetables dry plays on the Dracula myth in the most endearing way possible, why not shirking on the scares. If that wasn’t enough? It’s told from the POV of a dog. Spooky!
2. Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark
Not ready for Stephen King? Then turn to these classic tales of terror that have been frightening kids for decades. Forget Goosebumps, or other pseudo-scary kids horror books: these are the real deal, and deserve a place on your shelf next to Poe and Lovecraft.
1. The Witches
There is no book that scared us quite as much as a kid as Roald Dahl’s classic novel. Okay, maybe the Vermicious Knid’s from Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator, but for purely scary Dahl – who never, ever shied away from the darkness in a kids story – The Witches takes the cake. Dead parents, children turned into mice, and evil, evil candy. In other words, perfect for Halloween.
Bonus Classics! If you haven’t already, you should check out these classic books for Halloween… Which are classic for a reason. Plus, you can often find them free online without angering the cops. So that’s a good thing: Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe, and Twilight. Just kidding about that last one.