Kids Horror Books Since 2000
When it comes to kids horror, books will always play a crucial role. For good reason. The pivotal time in which education pushes children to read, the message is often “read something, anything”… because it’s difficult enough to get kids to do even that.
So in the drive to get kids to read, a natural interest in haunted houses, ghost tales, and scary stories is a natural place to propagate an interest, to encourage them to crack open a book.
The years 1970-2020 was a particularly interesting period of time for scary books intended for kids. It was a booming time for children’s books as a whole, and a significant advance of books intended to entertain as well as educate. The influx of school book fairs and Scholastic book orders brought newfound interest in books that weren’t normally part of the curriculum. Children were picking books that suited their interest more and more. And with that, books that catered to their spooky spirits.
Writing about the tail end of that period is interesting because we don’t have the benefit of hindsight as much as we do the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Are we currently in a scary children’s book boom? Or is the internet and such things as “creepypasta” molding new scary tales into something a bit different than they were before?
One thing is for sure, and that is that only in returning to the more recent examples on this list and this guide as a whole, expanding on them over time, will help shape opinions about what we can take away from the 21st Century and the newest scary books available to kids.
Don’t Turn Out the Lights
But this one is what you might consider the “official” tribute book released by the publisher HarperCollins. Edited by bestselling author Jonathan Maberry and including stories from such authors as R.L. Stine, Christopher Golden, and more, it’s about official as it gets. And thankfully, aimed for horror-loving kids.
More Bones Books
More Bones and Ask the Bones are two books both subtitled: Scary Stories from Around the World. And that’s what they are in simple terms, well-researched and sourced by editors Arielle North Olson and Howard Schwartz.
It’s easy to see connections between these books and Short and Shivery before them, and Daniel Cohen books before them, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark before them, and finally Maria Leach books before them. What a wonderful lineage of short scary stories that at the same time encourage children to read deeper into the history and culture behind the oral folk tales we pass on from one generation to the next.
The tales told by Olson and Schwartz include such stories as “The Severed Head” and “The Headless Horseman,” variations of which are deeply entrenched in many cultures and are full of character and imagination. And gruesome fun.
Interestingly, author Arielle North Olson is the daughter of noted author Sterling North, who wrote award-winning children’s book Rascal in the 1960s.
Neil Gaiman Books
Neil Gaiman has become an accomplished author of novels, comic books, and even a growing collection of screenplays and poetry collections. His work isn’t entirely in children’s books, but the ones he has authored such as Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and The Wolves in the Walls make him a significant modern author in the genre.
Coraline was heavily influenced by short story “The New Mother” by Lucy Clifford (1982), which has correlations with other books on this list such as Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (“The Drum”) and Short and Shivery.
And of course his Hansel and Gretel (2014) takes all this discussion of horror in children’s books and shepherds it further back to its natural conclusion, which is that the Grimms’ Brothers and many others going back many generations have used horror as a part of storytelling for children.
Max Brallier Books
After a series of books for adults in the 2000s, including a few joke books of different kinds, author Max Brallier ventured into scary children’s books beginning with his Erie Elementary series in 2014. That series is comparable to previously mentioned authors and titles such as R.L. Stine’s Rotten School, Christopher Pike’s Spooksville, as well as numerous Bruce Coville books.
Shortly after Erie Elementary he began his Last Kids on Earth series, which has become a New York Times Bestseller and has since been adapted into a Netflix series. Those books follow foster child Jack Sullivan and friends in a post-apocalypse world where they must fend off zombies and other monsters and mayhem. There is plenty of humor to meld with the scary-but-not-too-scary themes conveyed in the books.
Katherine Arden Books
Although known primarily as a writer of fantasy novels, Katherine Arden is author of a growing number of scary middle-grade books, which include Small Spaces (2018), Dead Voices (2019), Dark Waters (2021), and Empty Smiles (2022).
Now considered the Small Spaces Quartet, these books follow three friends as they survive deadly scarecrows, wintry ghosts, and even a Loch Ness monster. All while battling the most cursed of them all, The Smiling Man.
Edited by Susan Rich, the collection Half-Minute Horrors was released in 2009 and included short scary stories by renown authors such as Neil Gaiman, R.L. Stine, James Patterson, and Margaret Atwood.
A focus on length is something that is often overlooked. Making stories short results in an interest for many children who struggle with reading. Children who don’t want to read and need something easy (short) and engaging (for many, that means scary) to encourage them to read for pleasure is an important aspect of many books for kids.
After interviewing scores of people about the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, again and again I heard from adults who struggled to read as children. They often said that their first interest in reading was from books like Scary Stories, ones that included stories that were short enough to keep their interest before they were ready to take on longer tales. Books like Half-Minute Horrors continues this role for many books that children have available to them.
Last Updated on February 2, 2022.