It’s a booklist kind of week.
Like many children of the 80s I’ve been just delighted by the Netflix 8-part horror fest Stranger Things. I may not get most of the Stephen King and John Carpenter references but the E.T., Aliens, and Akira stuff hits home hard. For work I decided to put up a Stranger Things recommended book display for adult type folks. When I looked online I could only find about two or three such lists already in existence. Odd. But of course, then I started thinking about children’s books. Creeeeeepy children’s books.
When I was a kid, lots of children saw Gremlins, Nightmare on Elm Street, and any number of other horror films. Kids today would get a huge kick out of Stranger Things if they managed to see it. So for those kids who like their books a little eerie, a little creepy, and chock full of monsters and evil scientists, here’s a Stranger Things reading list. Hold onto it for Halloween if you so choose. Just don’t read it if you don’t want things spoiled for you. I may give a couple things away.
Stranger Things Booklist
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Seems appropriate to start with this one. There’s something creepy in the forests stealing the children. Enterprising kids have to outsmart an otherworldly being. Plants and nature play a big part in everything. And it has this nice off-putting vibe to it as well. It would make excellent children’s horror film, if it came to that.
The Inn Between by Marina Cohen
Have you read this one yet? It came out in March and was advertised as “The Shining meets Hotel California” which is one of the more enticing blurbs I’ve come across in a long time. I finished it recently and was quite taken with it. Like Stranger Things, family members disappear unexpectedly and other family members’ voices are heard without being seen. Add in the monster in the basement (monsters?) and you’ve got yourself a VERY misleadingly cutesy cover for what turns out to be a good frightening read. Think of it as Wait Till Helen Comes for the 21st century.
Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi
Grab this one if the thing you liked about Stranger Things was the group of boys uncovering an insidious plot created by evil (local) scientists. Granted, there are more zombie cows in this book than there were in Stranger Things, but there are also good jump-out-of-your-seat scare moments too.
The Flinkwater Factor by Pete Hautman
Of course, when I remembered the evil scientists in Bacigalupi’s books, that naturally led to a reminder about the evil scientists in Hautman’s. And as an extra added bonus, Hautman’s book has someone of superior abilities escaping from the scientists’ lab. In this case it’s a dog, not a girl, but it probably says a lot more words in one page than El does in the whole series.
The Nest by Kenneth Oppel
The monster of this piece is a bit more talkative (not to mention seductive) than the monster of Stranger Things. But we’ve got creepy messages through telephones, blurred lines between fantasy and reality, and that moment when you open a door in your house and discover a horror show waiting just for you.
Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar
Again with the crazy local scientists. This one’s effective at making you want to wash your hands repeatedly as you read it. It also reminds me of that moment when Eleven finds out what happened to Barb. The fuzzy mud here would be right at home in that setting.
The Cabinet of Curiosities by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, Emma Trevayne
Your kids may never sleep again. Lots of similarities in these stories with some of the Stranger Things tales. People getting sucked into plants. People getting trapped in other dimensions. And worse.
The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberly Griffiths Little
What is it with books about girls always getting cutesy covers, even when the content is on the darker side? Since this is more of a time travel book, it doesn’t have that many similarities to Stranger Things . . . except at the beginning with the disconnected phones that ring and the creepy messages spoken on the other end. *shiver*
Dreamwood by Heather Mackey
I was trying to find a bad guy equivalent to the tentacled plantlike THING that haunts Stranger Things. Not the monster, but the more insidious system the monster feeds. I considered The Lie Tree, but that doesn’t quite do it. That’s when I remembered Dreamwood and its hellish forest landscape. Oh yeah. Try getting to sleep after reading some of these passages. It’ll definitely curb your desire to hug a tree.
Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner
None of the scientists in these other books really did it for me in terms of the coy friendliness of “Papa”. That is, until I met the scientists in Messner’s book. It’s all happy happy joy joy until you start to dig a little deeper and see what’s really going on. Nature plays a big part in this one too.
The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill
I really enjoyed this one when it came out. Very mysterious. Very eerie. You have a house that isn’t all that it seems, something trying to escape, creepy plants (always with the creepy plants), and a big bad villain. Oh. And children go missing. That’s important.
The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth
A boy goes missing in a small town. Plants are out of control in the woods. Your greatest enemy might be yourself (or is that more of a Season Two plotline for Stranger Things, do you think?). Kids have to face down terrifying monsters to uncover the truth. Oh yeah. This graphic novel is right at home on this list.
What would you add? Extra bonus points if the book you recommend was published between 1980-89.