Not everyone likes to be scared, which can be challenging for parents of children who stand to miss out on the fun of Halloween.
But Halloween doesn’t have to be scary, least of all on the bookshelf. Here are some great new and classic books for children and teens of different reading levels who like their scares on the mild side.
“Room on the Broom” by Julia Donaldson
In this award-winning picture book from U.K. children’s author Julia Donaldson, a witch and her cat learn the value of friendship while zipping through the night sky on a broomstick. Various animals help the witch and her cat along their trip and are rewarded with rides on the broom, but when disaster strikes, the friendship is put to the test.
“Peanut Butter and Brains: A Zombie Culinary Tale” by Joe McGee
Combining pop culture’s current obsessions with zombies and food, author Joe McGee turns the trudging of the terrifying undead into a quest for the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich. All of young Reginald’s zombie peers (all illustrated as children) roam the countryside aimlessly searching for brains. But Reginald craves the sticky sweetness of a PB&J and suspects the other zombies might like it, too. After making friends with a girl who’s relieved to find Reginald doesn’t want to eat her brain, the two persuade the rest of the zombies to try peanut butter and jelly, allowing them to coexist with frightened villagers.
“Seen and Not Heard” by Katie May Green
Ages 5 and up
This beautifully illustrated new release is set in fictional Shiverhawk Manor, where portraits of children come to life at night and the children are free to have fun until the sun comes up. Offsetting the gray tones of the rich charcoal illustrations with color and lighthearted silliness, this is a picture book that offers a creepy tingle rather than a jolt of fear.
“Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery” by Deborah and James Howe
Ages 6 and up
A vampire rabbit may sound scary, but this mystery told from the perspective of two paranoid household pets packs much more humor than horror. The Monroe family’s dog, Harold, and cat, Chester, are highly suspicious when the Monroes bring a new addition to their rabbit-hutch home. Found while out watching a vampire film, the bunny is dubbed Bunnicula, thus convincing Chester and Harold that the rodent likely has a taste for blood. Children and their parents will find a lot of laughs as Harold and Chester learn to face their fears to get to the true identity of Bunnicula.
“Bony-Legs” by Joanna Cole
Ages 6 and up
Originally intended for 4-year-olds, this book may be too scary for children under 6.
A retelling of Russian folklore figure Baba Yaga, Joanna Cole (author of “The Magic School Bus” series) tells the story of Sasha, a young girl sent into the woods to borrow a needle and thread from Bony-Legs, a witch who lives in a house suspended on chicken feet.
On her errand, Sasha befriends animals and objects that have suffered at the hands of Bony-Legs, including a rusty gate and a hungry dog. When Bony-Legs decides to cook Sasha instead of lending her the thread, Sasha relies on her newfound friendship to escape.
“The Worst Witch” series by Jill Murphy
Ages 8 and up
This series is a precursor to Harry Potter, with a similar premise but intended for a younger audience. The heroine of this seven-book series is Mildred Hubble, an accident-prone girl who’s starting out school at Miss Cackle’s Academy for witches. Mildred is smart and she tries hard, but she struggles to master witch skills that come easily to her peers, like riding a broom and casting basic spells. Perfect for children who are struggling to fit in at school, Mildred’s story teaches them that everyone makes mistakes and that problem-solving is important.
“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman
Ages 10 and up
It’s the real world rather than the ghostly realm that proves more intimidating in Neil Gaiman’s Newbery Medal-winning children’s book. Gaiman turns the notion of the ghost story on its head with the story of Nobody Owens (Bod for short), a human child raised by ghosts after his family is killed when he’s just a toddler. As Bod enters his tween years, he learns that the company of the dead may have offered him a safe place to grow up, but he must take his place in the land of the living if he’s ever to put his horrible past behind him. In making the ordinarily frightening characters of ghosts protagonists, this book may help children interpret the bumps in the night in a different way.
“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller
Ages 14 and up
Arthur Miller’s classic play takes the mystery and fear out of witches by examining the social breakdown surrounding the Salem witch trials in 1692. While the play is a well-known parable for the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, today’s children can still take lessons of honesty and conscience away from this retelling of a dark chapter of Colonial American history.
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” series by Ransom Riggs
Ages 14 and up
Surrogate family is the overarching theme of Ransom Riggs’ popular trilogy. Featuring time travel, monsters and creepy black-and-white photographs, this series tells the gothic tale of Jacob, a boy haunted by the stories of his family’s past his grandfather tells him. When tragedy strikes and Jacob loses his grandfather, Jacob travels to Wales to compare his grandfather’s fantastic tales with the truth. In the process, Jacob meets the Peculiars, a group of misfit spirits under the care of headmistress Miss Peregrine. Through time travel and magic, Jacob helps the ghosts of his grandfather’s past rescue Miss Peregrine from evil forces that want to manipulate the Peculiars for their own dark purposes. Along the way, Jacob finds the connection of family he feared he’d lost forever. The third installment of the series, “Library of Lost Souls,” hit bookshelves this fall.
“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
Ages 14 and up
A Halloween must-read, Mary Shelley’s masterpiece has become as synonymous with the season as trick-or-treating. A fairly tame horror tale by today’s standards, the book tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a renowned doctor and inventor who becomes obsessed with discovering a way to create life. To that end, Frankenstein experiments repeatedly with corpses before successfully reanimating one, known in the book as “the monster.” Ridiculed and reviled by Frankenstein and all who meet him, the monster struggles to puzzle out the meaning of his existence while indulging in revenge against his creator.
“Frankenstein” remains a classic not because of its frightening subject matter but because of the philosophical questions it still raises about the limits of human ingenuity over nature, rejection, inner beauty and how one person’s actions can affect the lives of countless others.