Top 5 influential childhood horror novels

I’ve been a horror fan since I was a child. After being exposed to the universal monster movies, I found that I had an affinity for horror, and it wasn’t long before I was cruising my local library for monsters in the pages of books. In honor of monster kids everywhere and the Halloween season, I wanted to take a look at 5 influential childhood horror novels.

The Graveyard bookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman*

I debated over this one. “Coraline” is so brilliant and is a horror novel, but “The Graveyard Book” sets the tone perfectly for the Halloween season. From its startling and blood-soaked prologue, this book grabs you and fills your mind with a world of terrifying and wondrous scenes and characters. When a young boy’s family is murdered, he is taken into a cemetery where he is raised by ghosts, tutored by monsters and grows up to learn the mystery behind his past. This book uses the “Jungle Book” template to tell a macabre tale of innocence lost and strength gained. “The Graveyard Book” is both sweet and disquieting in equal measure.


something-wicked-this-way-comesSomething Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

This is the book that inspired Stephen King’s “IT”, that should be enough, however Ray Bradbury continues to inspire wonder and fear into the hearts of readers from his early career in the late 1930s until now, a year after his death. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” tells the story of two boys, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway, who run afoul of a mysterious carnival that visits their town late in the year. The head of the carnival, is an evil man who wants to tempt Jim into joining his infernal ranks. There is horrifying imagery in this book including a carousel that can make you younger or older, a “Dust Witch” and a hall of mirrors that can trap you inside. This book is poetic, and offers rich themes on youth and mortality.


scary-storiesScary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz Illustrated by Stephen Gammell

I had to specify not just the writer of the stories, but the original artist for these collections. Publishers have recently updated the classic art of Stephen Gammell, with that of Bret Helquist. Helquist is a talented artist, but there is something so delectably grotesque about Gammell’s ink-splattered illustrations. These stories and illustrations are still seared into my brain even decades later. These collections of folk stories and urban legends still hold up even if my old Schoolastic paperbacks haven’t.


The WitchesThe Witches by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is one of the linchpins of childhood stories, placing his work alongside that of J.M. Barrie, L. Frank Baum and A.A. Milne. Part of Dahl’s appeal, however, is the fact that he doesn’t talk down to his audience, treating them as sophisticated beings. This author reader relationship grants Dahl’s young audience entry in a world that occasionally deals in murder and mortality (much to the chagrin of some adults). This is perhaps never more apparent than in his book, “The Witches”. A young boy and his Norwegian grandmother mistakenly cross paths with a meeting of witches at a luxury hotel while on holiday. The boy is turned into a mouse, and learns of the witches’ plans to do the same to every child in the country. This book is beautifully descriptive, breathing new life into old monsters with a fresh perspective.


PoeThe Works of E.A. Poe 

It’s often difficult to pinpoint when most people first read horror, but I’d be willing to bet that the work of Poe acts as a common gateway to macabre literature. His poem “The Raven” is as synonymous with the supernatural, as it is with existential dread. “The Pit and the Pendulum” and the “Cask of Amontillado” showcase human monsters, tortured by paranoia and driven to kill. When young boys and girls first get a taste for the scary, and seek the path of horror fiction, Edgar Allen Poe is usually the first and most important guide they meet.

Now that I’ve shared some of my favorite horror books from childhood, I want to hear some of yours. Leave us a note in the comments.

* I did read “The Graveyard Book” as an adult, but that makes the book no less an important horror novel for children


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