As we get into the scary season, readers of all ages are looking for creepy, chilling books to set a fall reading mood. This includes younger readers who have a growing love for horror and want to explore dark tales in an age-appropriate way. While horror might not seem like a typical middle grade genre, there are quite a few benefits to scary stories for kids, including increased reader engagement and the opportunity to practice emotional resilience. Additionally, reading horror written for kids can help pave the way for enjoying the genre as adults, and horror books allow kids to experience vicarious bravery through the written word.
Of course, parents and teachers will want to pre-screen and discuss books with young readers before diving into the horror genre, but there are plenty of good, terrifying books written with middle graders in mind. Start out with some creepy stories, and then move on to tales of haunted houses and ghostly visions. Middle grade readers can select from realistic horror, horror with tones of fantasy, or even horrifying historical fiction to find the perfect book for the Halloween season.
Out to Get You: 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe by Josh Allen, illustrated by Sarah J. Coleman
The 13 stories in this book take simple everyday objects and situations and turn them into something sinister. In Josh Allen’s scary world, nothing is as it seems, and shadows lurk around every corner. Sarah J. Coleman’s work adds delightfully creepy illustrations to each story.
The Folcroft Ghosts by Darcy Coates
Middle grade readers who love a good haunted house story will want to read this! When their mother is hospitalized, Tara and Kyle are sent to live with their grandparents in their rambling house. When a storm cuts them off from outside communication, Tara and Kyle must reckon with their increasingly erratic grandparents — and with the eerie feeling that they are being watched.
The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf
Based on Malaysian folklore, this is the story of Suraya, a middle grade girl who inherits a pelesit, or ghostly demon, from her witch grandmother. At first, the pelesit, who Suraya names Pink, is a faithful friend. But pelesits also have a dark side, and Suraya will have to find a way to preserve their friendship while also keeping herself and Pink safe from the dark shadows that are threatening them.
The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills
Shelly and her grandmother, like all the women in her family, have the power to help souls that have not yet transitioned to the next step of their journey. But when Shelly’s mother dies, she begins hoarding spirits instead of releasing them, all while waiting for her mother’s ghost to find her way to her.
This Town Is Not All Right by M.K. Krys
When twins Beacon and Everleigh McCullough move from Los Angeles to Driftwood Harbor, it’s a shock. Driftwood is a rainy, New England fishing village with a mysterious group of seemingly perfect kids known as The Gold Stars. When Everleigh gets pulled into their group, Beacon must fight to save her before his sister is gone forever.
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Ever since the tragic death of a classmate, Paola and her friends have been told the same rule: Stay away from the river. But what her friends Emma and Dante don’t know is that Paola has been told to stay away for years, because of her mother’s tales that La Llorona haunts the Gile river, looking for children to pull in. Paola, a budding scientist, decides to try and prove that her mom’s story isn’t real, but when she organizes a river expedition, it turns out that maybe there was a reason to be afraid.
Witch by Finbar Hawkins
Set in the 17th century, this book is the perfect choice for middle graders interested in tales of witchcraft. Evey’s mother has been killed by witch hunters, and Evey has sworn to get her revenge. Unfortunately for her, her mother made her promise to look after Dill, Evey’s little sister, and keep her safe above all else. As Evey closes in on her mother’s killers, she must confront the fever pitch of witchcraft hysteria, as well as her own inner magick.
The Clackity by Lora Senf
Evie Von Rathe lives in Blight Harbor, known as the seventh most haunted town in America. There, she helps her Aunt Desdemona with her work as the local paranormal expert and is careful to stay away from the abandoned slaughterhouse that her aunt has told her is off limits. However, Desdemona disappears into the slaughterhouse one day, and Evie, despite her fear of the creatures within the building, sets out to find her.