Book Blurbs: Spooky Stories for School-Age Readers

Every two month, I write a column for our library’s newsletter on recent kids’ books. I’ve been leaning more towards themed lists lately, and have decided to post my latest picks here, too. I haven’t even touched on YA–these are definitely kids’ books, with a few leaning more towards middle school level (grades five to eight) to round out the list. Plus, here you’ve got a couple editorial comments, for what it’s worth.

I love Halloween, and I love ghost stories! Here are some of my recent picks (and one old favourite) for school-age readers looking for something sort of silly, slightly spooky, or downright scary.

Don’t Walk Alone at Night! by Veronika Martenova Charles.
Leon, Max and Marcus tell each other scary stories until they are sure Mothman, Monster, and Ghost are after them. Are they scared? Not enough to admit it, but they certainly are running for home a little faster than usual. This is part of the Easy-to-Read Spooky Tales series for new readers, based on traditional folktales. (I like this series because it’s for beginning readers, but will appeal to older kids who for whatever reason are reading way below grade level. Plus, two points in its favour, based on traditional folklore, and Canadian!)

Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost by Cornelia Funke.
Tom is terrified of ghosts, but professional ghostbuster Hetty Hyssop needs his help to dispel an IRG (Incredibly Revolting Ghost) from an old house. This is the first book of the Ghosthunters series and a slightly spooky, sort of silly story for slightly younger readers than the author’s other fantasy stories like Inkheart and The Thief Lord. Some of the Ghosthunter books are also available on audio CD.

The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
David’s new stepsister Amanda tells him and his younger siblings that she is a witch and promises to teach them, too. When strange things start happening in their old house, David wonders if Amanda is to blame, or if it has something to do with the headless cupid statue on the staircase and the ghost that is supposed to haunt the house. One of my all-time favourites, and a Newbery Award winner.

Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake by Jennifer Allison.
Having earned a scholarship to a private girls’ high school, self-proclaimed psychic investigator Gilda Joyce investigates the circumstances surrounding the drowning death of a student whose ghost supposedly haunts the campus. Gilda will appeal to fans of Harriet the Spy–this is a good middle-school mystery series with a few chills!

Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac.

After her parents disappear and she is turned over to the care of a strange “great-uncle,” Molly must rely on her dreams about an old Mohawk story for her safety and maybe even for her life. Full of suspense and chills, this is a good pick for anyone who likes their scary stories with high stakes. (Some seriously gross and creepy bits here! I think the missing parents will concievably bother adults more than kids, much like Coraline, but in the original legend of the skeleton man that Molly rememvers her father telling her, he eats all the flesh off his own bones and then devours his whole tribe. Booktalks very well with the whole ick factor… Bonus points for a strong female Native protagonist in a contemporary novel.)

Breathe by Cliff McNish.
Jack’s asthma has almost killed him many times. But when he and his mother move into a new house, he becomes prey to an otherworldly danger. The house is haunted by the ghosts of children, and Jack will have to learn their secrets to save himself and his mother from the Ghost Mother and the terrors of the Nightmare Passage. If you like truly frightening ghost stories and imaginative storytelling, Breathe may be the book for you. (This one had some pretty intense mythology set up around the ghosts. I think my favourite thing about it, though, was how very vivid the historical parts were.)

For more silly spooky stories try: Velcome by Kevin O’Malley, Junie B, First Grader: Boo, And I Mean It! by Barbara Park or Bunnicula by James Howe.

For more slightly spooky stories, try: The Bagpiper’s Ghost by Jane Yolen, The Ghost Wore Gray by Bruce Coville, or The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury.

For more very scary stories try: Haunted Canada by Pat Hancock, Coraline by Neil Gaiman, The House With a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz.

(And yes, I know it’s only the beginning of September–it’s never too early to be thinking about Halloween!)

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