I’ve never been a scary-movie person. I have nothing against them! October is the time when all the movie theaters play the best slashers and jump-scare-filled cult classics. I muscled my way into enjoying certain horror movies during my cinema studies classes in graduate school because horror movies themselves are so influential in film history, and I have a similar approach to reading the important horror novels of the past. I’m too curious to never engage with super-scary Halloween-y entertainment, but I tend to choose a light, happy Halloween read to satisfy the Halloween season cravings when I want to unwind autumnally.
I am a wimp! I have accepted that about myself. I’m not great with super-gory mysteries or super-tense thrillers, so I tend to read a lot of graphic novels with Halloween-related imagery and magical creatures running around. Not only is autumn the season of renewal, the falling leaves and breezy coolness add a sense of mystery and possibility to the air.
Even though I’m not cool enough to watch all the gory slashers, the neighborhood I grew up in always went all in on Halloween. Babies in pumpkin pajamas, families in coordinated costumes, and kids in beautifully-constructed cardboard creations took over the streets for the day. The deep, unabashed excitement and commitment to theme always made me happy. I’m looking forward to the simple joy of passing out candy and seeing the great costumes this year. Maybe it’s not that scary, but it is fun and Halloween-y.
Cozy Halloween Romance and Mystery
The Bakeshop at Pumpkin and Spice by Donna Kauffman, Kate Angell, and Allyson Charles
This collection of three fall romance stories set in Moonbright, Maine feels like the perfect read for any Gilmore Girls fan (all of the best episodes take place in autumn). Moonbright takes Halloween very seriously: there’s a major parade where everyone dresses up in the spirit of the season. Three romance stories take place at Bellaluna’s Bakeshop, which also purveys extremely Halloween-y sweet treats. This is a perfect book to read while sitting in a park on a breezy fall day, or inside during a rainy day.
Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie
The queen of cozy mysteries takes Hercule Poirot to Woodleigh Common to solve a Hallowe’en party murder and a longer series of mysterious disappearances and deaths that have taken place in Woodleigh Common over the years. At Rowena Drake’s Hallowe’en party, Joyce Reynolds proclaims she saw a murder take place years ago — and later that night, she turns up dead as well. Another party attendee, Ariadne Oliver, calls Poirot to investigate. He finds more mysteries than he initially expected.
Happy Halloween from Your Local Witches
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, illustrated by Wendy Xu
Nova Huang is a budding young witch who works at her grandmother’s bookshop and acts as the supernatural Nancy Drew of her small town. When tracking down a white wolf in the woods, she finds her former crush Tam Lang fighting a demon in the woods. It turns out Tam is a werewolf and is cursed to wander without finding home. The illustrations remind me of all the best parts of autumn and the joy of walking around on Halloween when you’re surrounded by people in witch costumes and otherworldly energy.
The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag
Aster is from a family with intensely stratified gender roles: girls are witches and boys are shapeshifters. Aster is the one boy in the family who has yet to shapeshift. However, he’s caught doing witchcraft by a girl named Charlie and they make fast friends. As Aster keeps exploring his interest in witchcraft with help from Charlie, his family assumes he is just having trouble shapeshifting. When the boys in his community are under attack, Aster is the only one who can help with his non-conforming identity and perspective.
The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner
The black cat drew me in and the sweet story kept me reading. Moth is an eighth-grader with a witch obsession. In a major twist, Moth finds out that all the witch stories she’s obsessed with are real and her family is embroiled in all the historical witch drama of their small Massachusetts town. Her powers come fast and furious, and she makes friends with a talking cat and falls face-first into the world of witches.
More Happy Halloween Creature Reads
Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez Gomez
Sandy loves to draw, and her drawings are based on the creatures from the nightlights that appear in her bedroom in the middle of the night. When another girl, Morfie, finds out about Sandy’s magic drawings, she makes Sandy draw things for her that get scary and out-of-control. A monster starts haunting Sandy’s dreams and claiming her artwork. This story is a little heady: it’s about art and why we are driven to create. The illustrations in this book are also truly arresting and beautiful.
Hotel Dare by Terry Blas, illustrated by Claudia Aguirre
Olive, Charlotte, and Darwin explore an otherworldly hotel and come across every sort of portal fantasy you could imagine. Grandma Lupé owns the hotel and the kids come to Mexico for the summer to visit. Each door takes them to a different fantasy or science fiction world, and the teens have to learn how to communicate and work together. Charlotte and Darwin are Olive’s adopted siblings, and they bond even more deeply through this magical experience.
Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee
Lora goes through that achingly common experience in middle school of feeling totally left behind. All her friends are getting into more grown up pursuits, while Lora wants to stay a child for as long as possible. The future scares her. When Lora meets a ghost girl named Alexa in her house, she has someone who will stay in childhood with her. As Alexa finds out more about her past, Lora begins to understand that she can’t stop growing up and she can face her fears. It’s full of beautiful autumnal art and it’s a great cross-generational read.
A Happy Halloween to All Ages
No matter your tolerance for scary stories, there’s a fun autumnal read out there for you. It doesn’t have to be scary to be in line with the season. There’s a sense of possibility and fantasy at every corner.
If you’re looking for something scary for Halloween, there are plenty of thrillers, horror books, and scary supernatural reads. And for the kiddos, try these Halloween readalouds for elementary school and these Halloween books for toddlers.