Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Terrifying Children’s Books

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Karina Glaser

Contributing Editor

Karina Yan Glaser is a full-time writer and illustrator with a varied career teaching and implementing literacy programs in family homeless shelters and recruiting healthcare professionals to volunteer in under-resourced areas around the world. Karina is the New York Times bestselling author of the middle grade books, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street and The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. She lives in Harlem with her husband, two daughters, and an assortment of rescued animals. One of her proudest achievements is raising two kids who can't go anywhere without a book. Website:; Twitter: @KarinaYanGlaser; Instagram: @KarinaIsReadingAndWriting

Do you want your kids to be so terrified by a bedtime story that they won’t ever sleep again? Do you want your kids to have phobias of darkness, spiders, or the woods? Do you want your kids to banish all the realistic-looking dolls they own?

We’ve collected some seriously frightening and terrifying children’s books, stories of gore and curses and supernatural peculiarities, perfect for kids who love to be scared and parents who don’t mind that their kids might need to sleep with them until they go off to college.

Is there a book you read as a child that was so creepy just thinking about it now makes you shiver? Share in the comments!

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Grade 4 and Up) by Alvin Schwartz

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is the classic book of scary in children’s literature. If you like creepy images to stay with you until the end of your life, be sure to pick up a copy with the original illustrations by Stephen Gammel. “The Red Spot” will take you to a whole new level of arachnophobia. Check out this illustration from the book:




Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Spiders Yup, not sleeping tonight.

The Books for Elsewhere by Jacqueline WestThe Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West (series) (Grade 4-6)

Have you ever gone into a rambling house and seen gilded paintings featuring creepy looking people you don’t ever want to meet? This book by Jacqueline West follows eleven-year-old Olive who moves into a crumbling mansion filled with exactly those paintings. But instead of covering the paintings up with drop cloths or tossing them into the dumpster like I would have done, Olive discovers a way to get inside the paintings. Why she would want to do that I have no idea, but she does and gets sucked into a world of evil and danger. Guaranteed to make your kid sleep with the lights on.

Dhegdheer by Marian A. HassanDhegdheer: A Scary Somali Folktale by Marian A. Hassan (Picture Book)

This is a Somali folktale about the monster Dhegdheer who eats everyone she encounters. When a widow and her young son falls into her path, they try to escape with their lives while also bringing down Dhegdheer’s reign of terror. Will they succeed?


Goosebumps by R.L. StineGoosebumps series by R.L. Stine (Grade 5-8)

Most people will recognize the Goosebumps covers with that signature dripping font. In the first book of the series, The Night of the Living Dummy, we meet twins Lindy and Kris who are ultra-competitive and not very nice. Cue entrance of a ventriloquist dummy. When Mr. Wood comes to life, the girls find themselves in their own horror story, one with an unpredictable Mr. Wood full of evil intents and green slime. Pretty much any horror story about a ventriloquist dummy or evil-doll-come-to-life is enough to have me hiding under the covers.


A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam GidwitzA Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz (Grade 3 and Up)

This book truly lives up to the title. Hansel and Gretel are the stars of this book, and their adventures include going to hell, wandering through enchanted forests, and getting beheaded… among other things. You get the picture. For kids and parents who prefer the watered down version of Grimms’ tales, this is not for you. Gidwitz not only embraces the violence inherent in those tales, he amps it up.



Amulet by Kazu KibuishiThe Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet series) (Age 8-12)

In this graphic novel, Emily and Navin move with their mother into the home of her deceased great-grandfather. The house is old and filled with mysteries, and when their mother gets captured by a monster and dragged into the underworld, it’s up to Emily and Navin to rescue her and get back home alive. The graphics are gorgeous and captivating. Best of all, this is a series… and the story only gets better as the books go on.



Doll Bones by Holly BlackDoll Bones by Holly Black (Grade 5-8)

This is another story about a doll named the “Queen” who haunts the dreams of kids and makes demands about her burial. When three friends comply with her wishes and set off to bury her in the empty grave of a murdered girl (whose cremated remains and soul now inhabits the doll), nothing goes right and the kids are led into an epic journey to lay the doll to rest. Is a china doll serving as an urn for a murdered child creepy enough for you?

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie AlenderThe Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender (Grade 7 Up)

If the cover alone doesn’t give you the shivers, then the teaser line on the book description will:


Yup, that does it for me. The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall is about a girl named Delia who moves into a house that used to be the Piven Institute for the Care and Correction of Troubled Females, nicknamed “Hysteria Hall”. Not only does the house want to keep Delia locked away within it’s walls, the house is also haunted. Great for fans of horror or suspense.