I have to admit: I’m not much of one for horror. I like my zombie pop culture but I tend to stick to things that are at least halfway humorous and not out-and-out terrifying. Since Halloween is approaching, I figured today I’ll focus on a few of the titles from my stacks that fit the season, though maybe not quite that scary.
First, a few for the little kids:
Leo is a little boy ghost living in a house by himself, but when a family moves in, he realizes he’s not wanted and takes a trip to the city. There, he encounters a young girl named Jane who, surprisingly, can see him.
It’s a sweet story that turns the usual tropes of ghosts on its head, and Robinson’s illustrations are wonderful. They’re a combination of acrylic painting and cut paper, and they have a classic feel to them.
This is one I picked up at the store a while back because, hey, Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen! Laszlo is afraid of the dark, but he visits the dark in the space under the stairs every day in the hopes that the dark won’t come see him. But one night, it does.
“Laszlo,” the dark said, in the dark.
It does remind me a little bit of Orion and the Dark, also about a young boy learning not to fear the dark, but between Snicket’s writing and Klassen’s illustrations, it has more of a spooky, foreboding feeling until you get to the resolution.
Spiders are awesome, right? There are all sorts of spiders and they do amazing things … but they’re still just a bit creepy. The narrator of this book explains all these arachnid facts because she’s trying to love spiders, but then every so often she freaks out and smushes one.
I’m a little torn about this book, because it does include a lot of cool trivia about spiders and the illustrations are fun. On the other hand, it does encourage the idea that spiders are scary and ought to be squished.
And now, a few for slightly older kids:
Mad Scientist Academy is taught by Dr. Cosmic–and the new students are all typical Halloween creatures–werewolf, vampire, robot, and so on. They’re all set to learn about dinosaurs from a robotic exhibit, but then a malfunction causes everything to go haywire.
The book is shaped like a picture book, but it’s really a comic book under the covers, and it’s filled with little sidebars of dino facts. The illustrations are great, particularly the dinosaurs.
When I was in junior high, I discovered Ray Bradbury. I don’t think I had come across any authors who blend genres the way he does. You never know, starting a story, whether it will be a “slice of life” tale or filled with the supernatural–or both. He can do heart-warming and bone-chilling, sometimes in the course of a single short story.
The Halloween Tree is an old story that traces the roots of Halloween, told through the adventure that eight boys–no, nine!–have on a wild Halloween. This new edition features illustrations by Gris Grimly, some in black in white throughout the book and a few in full color. Bradbury’s prose makes you want to read it aloud to somebody, and The Halloween Tree is a wonderful ride.
Okay, so I had to include at least one zombie tale, right? Although this one’s not your typical zombie story. Crow Darlingson is eleven years old and dead. Only not dead. His mother home-schools him and pretty much never lets him out of the house except at Halloween, lest his secret be discovered because of his smell or falling-off body parts.
But when Melody moves into the house next door, she not only befriends him but isn’t scared by his “general necrosis.” In the meantime, Crow begins to piece together what happened to him: how did he die? How was he brought back to life? And why is his mom so determined to hide him from the world? This is a zombie story in which the scariest monster isn’t actually the zombie.
Charlie Laird is scared to go to sleep: ever since he moved into his stepmom’s weird purple mansion, he’s sure that she’s a witch and his nightmares are out to get him. And maybe he’s right. I’ve only read a little bit so far of the first book, but I know Charlie survives since the second book in the trilogy was just released last month. I’m curious to see where the story goes, but it does have a lot about facing and overcoming fears.
Finally, a few books for the adults (young and old):
In this young adult novel, day lasts for fourteen years–and then the night comes. The kids who are fourteen (or younger) at the start of this story have never experienced the Night, or all the various rituals that accompany it. The islanders are preparing for departure–they sail south to wait out the fourteen years of darkness–but nobody wants to talk about what any of it means.
When a boy named Line disappears, twins Marin and Kara have an idea of what may have happened to him–but with all the preparations nobody is able to rescue him. What if they miss the boats? What’s out there in the dark? This tale takes the long days and nights of northern territories and stretches it out, making it terrifically creepy.
The subtitle is “A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations,” and the book does in fact tell you about real places you can visit, all of which are “cursed” in some sense of the word. Some have inspired fictional locations; others were the sites of horrible events. The book details what makes each place cursed, examining the location’s history (both real and imaginary, when relevant) and current status.
From Aokigahara, the “suicide forest” in Japan to the Nevada Triangle (including Area 51) to Rocca-Sparviera, an abandoned mountainside village in France, the book covers spooky locations all over the world, with maps and geographic coordinates. I do wish there were some illustrations or photographs of significant locations, but the stories are fascinating.
Kirigami is a variation of origami that includes cutting the paper, and Marc Hagan-Guirey has created 20 scenes based on horror films and traditional haunted houses for you to recreate. Each one requires a single sheet of paper and turns it into a pop-up scene. Hagan-Guirey describes the inspiration for each piece and gives some cutting tips and instructions (with photographs). The book even includes the stiffer paper with the templates printed right on them–you can cut out the paper and use it as-is, or make a copy so you can reuse the template again and again. I haven’t tried my own hand at these yet, but I’m particularly drawn to Dr. Frankenstein’s Watchtower and may give that one a shot soon.
Finally, for readers who love short stories, here are two anthologies that have been around a little while but can still bring the chills and thrills:
Taking a cue from the original collections of folk tales by the Brothers Grimm, Stephen Jones has assembled this horror anthology of new spins on classic fairy tales and folk tales. The original stories were often too gruesome or sexual for young children, and this is also a collection not intended for younger readers. Some of the authors here were familiar to me–Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix–but many were new to me. Interspersed between these new tales are some older stories that inspired the fiction or share some thematic elements.
This anthology is all about monsters–sometimes the monsters that you might meet, and sometimes the monsters inside you. The authors in this collection write young adult fiction–names like M. T. Anderson, Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black, and Patrick Ness–and these stories are a mix of fearsome and funny.
Happy Halloween, and happy reading!
Disclosure: I received review copies of these books except where noted.