Readers Beware: You’re in for My List of Scary Classic Kids’ Horror Books
It feels blasphemous to write about children’s horror without uttering the word “Goosebumps” or naming him—the R.L. Stine. But before you brandish your pitchforks, allow me to say this: I was a Goosebumps kid right down to my sinew and bones, honest!
I was part of the Goosebumps Collectors Club.
I owned Goosebumps walkie talkies!
I did my dark duty and woke up early on Saturday mornings to look for the newest episodes of the Goosebumps TV show (or are we calling them movies?), and I did it with nothing but the TV Guide to—errr—guide me, and an overwhelming sense of self-righteousness as I waged war against two older sisters, who always had control of the remote.
One of my crowning social media achievements was getting a retweet from Stine on my Camp Jellyjam tee!
I still own my Goosebumps Fright Light Edition for ghost sakes!
I promise, my love for Goosebumps is deeper than a six-foot grave and as enduring as death itself. But today, my fellow creeps, like our favorite fast-talking dummy, I have the stage, so allow me to present some creepy kid lit that you might have missed.
Readers beware—you’re in for my scary list of classic kids’ horror books/authors from my ‘90s childhood.
If you were a kid who loved the thrill of a Goosebumps chapter cliffhanger AND the gore and grossness of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, then Tales for the Midnight Hour by J.B. Stamper would have been the book for you! I read this book over and over and over again. I even checked off each story in the table of contents to ensure that I wouldn’t miss anything. Full disclosure: I checked this book out of the library and never returned it. It’s something I’m deeply embarrassed about, and I like to think that my career in the book industry is some form of repayment. I hope librarians everywhere will someday sincerely forgive the 9-year-old Ally who didn’t know any better.
And of course—OF COURSE—I now have to talk about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz with illustrations by Stephen Gammell. OK, so maybe not all of the stories are terrifying. In fact, some of them are downright humorous (“The Viper,” anyone?). I know this book has been done to death, but to not include it on my list would just be downright disrespectful to my childhood. Remember when they tried to change the artwork? Yikes.
If I say Joan Lowery Nixon, you would probably say The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore. Or you would name one of Joan’s other bazillion scary books, but guys—what about The House on Hackman’s Hill? Did you know that it contains one of the creepiest scenes in all of children’s literature (and this scene is the reason why I don’t walk around in the dark without first tucking my hands into the safety of my pockets)? Plus, there’s a creepy old mansion and a curse and creature with the head of a jackal…the head of a jackal!
Once again, if I say Paul Zindel, you would probably name an enduring “classic” like The Pigman. But make some space on the shelf for The Doom Stone, Loch, Rats, and Reef of Death! I was obsessed with these spooky Paul Zindel books as a kid, because I was (and still am!) a monster-loving kid at heart, and these books fed my monstrous appetite. Another disclosure: I re-read Reef of Death as part of a project for grad school. I did not love it the second time around, but you know what? That’s OK, because I’m no longer the target audience of the book, and sometimes books give us the comfort we need during a certain season of our lives—so thanks anyway, Paul Zindel (RIP).
Maybe it’s because I grew up in an all-black neighborhood and attended an all-black elementary school, but I’m always shocked by the number of people who never had the privilege of reading The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Brian Pinkney. I mean, the book is a Coretta Scott King Award winner AND a Newbery Honor book. Horror is ALWAYS political, and this book taught me so much about Black history. This book also showed me that Black people could be protagonists in horror and not just relegated to the role of sidekick or the magical negro trope. Representation matters, creeps.
That’s it! Those are the books that resonated with me when I was a child. Sure, some of them are no longer favorites, and you may not think they’re worthy, and they might not even stand up to the test of time, but they are the books that cultivated my love of horror.
What classic kid lit do you remember from your childhood? Spare me the line about how you were an “advanced reader.” I’m talking about the books you read before you encountered your first swear word in a Stephen King novel at the tender age of ten.
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