Horror for Kids Today: Post-Goosebumps Scare Fests
If this whole Collection Management job I’ve got going on doesn’t pan out, I think I’ve a fine and beautiful career ahead of me as a Crochety Children’s Librarian That Takes Issue With People Who Inexplicably Are Discussing Children’s Literature. The source of today’s frustration? A recent NPR piece with a killer title: Like ‘Goosebumps?’ Here’s Another 30 Years’ Worth Of Horror For Kids. Sounds really great, right? I was looking forward to seeing what’s gone on since, oh say, Wait Till Helen Comes. Turns out, I was reading the title incorrectly. Apparently the “30 Years’ Worth of Horror” to which he alludes actually means everything that came before Goosebumps. And aside from the fact that author Grady Hendrix appears to believe the term “YA” means “middle grade” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is one example of this) he appears to be incapable of conjuring up a single “horror” book from anything later than the 1980s. It would have been really neat if he’d included a list of some of the latest, greatest scary middle grade books for kids.
Well, if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself. Here is an actual list of horror novels for kids written not in the last 30 years but in the last six. In other words, stuff that came out since you yourself were a child.
A Scary Sampling of Post-Goosebumps Horror
The Birth of Kitaro by Shigeru Mizuki
A graphic novel is a good way to start things out right. And why not begin with one steeped in yokai traditions of Japanese ghosts and monsters? Japanese folklore plays a heavy role in these books, but the kids will dig them because they are creepy as all get out. Big time fan over here.
The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister by Various
You know a short story collection is a success if you can conjure up memories of some of its creepier elements four years later. For me, the short story about the boy compelled to eat a cake of himself, where he can feel every bite on his own body, has lodged firmly in my own brain for years. Lots of good tales here, but that one left a mark.
Doll Bones by Holly Black
Now I have heard librarians say that boys won’t pick this book up because there’s a doll on the cover. To this I ask, how much creepier a doll do you want, guys? I am so glad it won a Newbery Honor, because this unnerving little tale gave me some serious shivers. The idea of going to sleep only to wake and find someone has gone through your stuff, and the doll you were traveling with has mysteriously moved . . . *shudder*
Dreamwood by Heather Mackey
If there is a common thread in the books on my list today it is this: Don’t trust trees.
The Inn Between by Marina Cohen
This one made me happy. I didn’t quite get what was going on as I read it, so the twist satisfied me. It’s the old “Hotel California” deal. Love it.
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Creepy, scary, and really very good? Check all of the above. Strangely, as a parent the element that ripped my heart out was of the creatures that walk with backwards feet, because they’re all stolen children reaching out for their mamas, while their feet disobey. Kills me.
Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky
I was serious about that tree statement. Do Not Trust Them!
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
Yeah, I know. I take Hendrix to task for lumping his middle grade with his YA and then I include this. But I think a smart kid would really adore it and, besides, it backs up my previous statements about trees. Oh yeah. They look all sweet and innocent. They. Are. Not.
The Lockwood & Company series by Jonathan Stroud
Oh, I just loved this series to pieces. And it scared the shirt off of me when I first read it. Who knew the old spend a night in a haunted house trope could be so effective?
The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill
So nice of her to win a Newbery Award like that. But for me, it was her creepy stuff I always loved most.
Remember: Trees are not your friends.
The Nest by Kenneth Oppel
Come to think of it, neither are wasps. But you knew that already, didn’t you? This is for the kid that loves the Alien franchise. I know it doesn’t seem all that similar at first, but it presses the same buttons.
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
You didn’t go trusting a tree while I was gone, did you?
The Riverman by Aaron Starmer
Sort of taps into my own personal nightmare of living too much in my own head. Like the dark side of Narnia.
Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
A book that’ll create a fear of scarecrows where none existed before.
What have you enjoyed that I’ve forgotten?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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