Horror story-loving parents are understandably excited to introduce little readers to their favorite genre. However, a family read-aloud of Carrie might not be the best choice for toddler listeners. Thankfully, there are plenty of picture books that can introduce the scary, creepy, and crawly tropes of horror, without leading to endless, sleepless nights for young listeners. And for kids who have developed a taste for darker stories on their own, these horror picture books can be a fun introduction for the whole family to a beloved genre.
For kids, reading scary books has both entertainment and emotional benefits. In many of the books below, young readers get to see characters like them confront their fears, whether that’s a dark and cold basement, or a sea full of monsters. Additionally, horror picture books can plant the seeds for kids to go on and enjoy books for middle graders and young adults in the same niche. By reading these books together, families will have a chance to talk about facing fears, and why sometimes it’s fun to be scared a little bit. Of course, some books will frighten certain kids more than others, and it’s always a good idea to preview them before reading aloud. But, adults may be surprised by what young readers are interested in, and find that horror picture books can be a great way to share their favorite genre with their children. Many of these books are equally enjoyable to kids and adults, with illustrations that communicate the sense of eerie dread that shows up in the best horror books, for any age.
Maude The Not-So-Noticeable Shrimpton by Lauren Child, Illustrated by Trisha Krauss
The Shrimpton family is loud, eccentric, and over the top…except for their daughter Maude, who prefers to blend into the wallpaper. When Maude is gifted a pet tiger (instead of the goldfish she wanted, which was deemed as too boring) for her birthday, she’s embarrassed to be seen with such a standout pet. But, when the tiger gets hungry, it turns out that Maude is very grateful to be able to disappear.
The Stumps of Flattop Hill by Kenneth Kit Lamug
When Florence is dared to enter the haunted house at the top of the hill, she’s understandably hesitant. After all, if she gets caught she’ll be turned into a stump! This haunted and macabre tale is accompanied by illustrations reminiscent of Edward Gorey.
Kid Crazy and the Kilowatt King by Claudio Sanchez, Illustrated by Arthur Mask
For anyone who likes horror with a side of sci-fi, try this story of a boy battling robots to teach Kilowatt King some manners. This book introduces sci-fi horror tropes in a kid-friendly way with lessons about friendships and saying “please.”
The Wanderer by Peter Van Den Ende
This beautifully illustrated, wordless book takes us on a journey across a sea filled with monsters and storms. The illustrations of a young boy in a boat on his own give an eerie sense of dread to the story.
Beatrice Likes the Dark by April Genevieve Tucholke, Illustrated by Khoa Le
For gothic young girls everywhere, this is the story of Beatrice, who loves all things dark and creepy. Beatrice prefers graveyards to gardens, nighttime to day, and ghosts to dolls. But her sister Roo loves everything light and cheery. Can Beatrice and Roo help each other embrace both?
Bony-Legs by Joanna Cole, Illustrated by Dirk Zimmer
The witch Bony-Legs captures poor Sasha and prepares to eat her until three unlikely heroes come to Sasha’s rescue. This is a classic book for scaring kids from 1983, and the illustrations here are detailed and dark, creating the perfect, scary reading atmosphere.
Black and Bittern Was Night by Robert Heidbreder, Illustrated by John Martz
This nonsense book celebrates Halloween. When the skul-a-mug-mugs threaten to cancel Halloween, can the kids fight to get their trick-or-treating back? This book is a great silly/scary mix for little readers.