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Horror for Kids Today: Post-Goosebumps Scare Fests

If this whole Collection Management job I’ve got going on doesn’t pan out, I think I’ve a fine and beautiful career ahead of me as a Crochety Children’s Librarian That Takes Issue With People Who Inexplicably Are Discussing Children’s Literature. The source of today’s frustration? A recent NPR piece with a killer title: Like ‘Goosebumps?’ Here’s Another 30 Years’ Worth Of Horror For Kids. Sounds really great, right? I was looking forward to seeing what’s gone on since, oh say, Wait Till Helen Comes. Turns out, I was reading the title incorrectly. Apparently the “30 Years’ Worth of Horror” to which he alludes actually means everything that came before Goosebumps.  And aside from the fact that author Grady Hendrix appears to believe the term “YA” means “middle grade” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is one example of this) he appears to be incapable of conjuring up a single “horror” book from anything later than the 1980s. It would have been really neat if he’d included a list of some of the latest, greatest scary middle grade books for kids.

Well, if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself. Here is an actual list of horror novels for kids written not in the last 30 years but in the last six. In other words, stuff that came out since you yourself were a child.

A Scary Sampling of Post-Goosebumps Horror

The Birth of Kitaro by Shigeru Mizuki


A graphic novel is a good way to start things out right. And why not begin with one steeped in yokai traditions of Japanese ghosts and monsters?  Japanese folklore plays a heavy role in these books, but the kids will dig them because they are creepy as all get out. Big time fan over here.

The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister by Various


You know a short story collection is a success if you can conjure up memories of some of its creepier elements four years later. For me, the short story about the boy compelled to eat a cake of himself, where he can feel every bite on his own body, has lodged firmly in my own brain for years. Lots of good tales here, but that one left a mark.

Doll Bones by Holly Black


Now I have heard librarians say that boys won’t pick this book up because there’s a doll on the cover. To this I ask, how much creepier a doll do you want, guys? I am so glad it won a Newbery Honor, because this unnerving little tale gave me some serious shivers. The idea of going to sleep only to wake and find someone has gone through your stuff, and the doll you were traveling with has mysteriously moved . . . *shudder*

Dreamwood by Heather Mackey


If there is a common thread in the books on my list today it is this: Don’t trust trees.

The Inn Between by Marina Cohen


This one made me happy. I didn’t quite get what was going on as I read it, so the twist satisfied me. It’s the old “Hotel California” deal. Love it.

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste


Creepy, scary, and really very good? Check all of the above. Strangely, as a parent the element that ripped my heart out was of the creatures that walk with backwards feet, because they’re all stolen children reaching out for their mamas, while their feet disobey. Kills me.

Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky


I was serious about that tree statement. Do Not Trust Them!

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge


Yeah, I know. I take Hendrix to task for lumping his middle grade with his YA and then I include this. But I think a smart kid would really adore it and, besides, it backs up my previous statements about trees. Oh yeah. They look all sweet and innocent. They. Are. Not.

The Lockwood & Company series by Jonathan Stroud


Oh, I just loved this series to pieces. And it scared the shirt off of me when I first read it. Who knew the old spend a night in a haunted house trope could be so effective?

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill


So nice of her to win a Newbery Award like that. But for me, it was her creepy stuff I always loved most.

Remember: Trees are not your friends.

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel


Come to think of it, neither are wasps. But you knew that already, didn’t you? This is for the kid that loves the Alien franchise. I know it doesn’t seem all that similar at first, but it presses the same buttons.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier


You didn’t go trusting a tree while I was gone, did you?

Doggone it!

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer


Sort of taps into my own personal nightmare of living too much in my own head. Like the dark side of Narnia.

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden


A book that’ll create a fear of scarecrows where none existed before.

What have you enjoyed that I’ve forgotten?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I love this list. All good books. The Cabinet of Curiosities is one of the most brilliant books I’ve read in a long time. Tried reading it out loud to my girls (the year after it came out), and they got sooo creeped out, they bailed on me. But every year, EVERY YEAR I try again. So exquisitely good.

  2. Great list, but one I’d add is Ellen Oh’s Spirit Hunters. Super creepy stuff for kids. Hauntings, possession, exorcism.. creepy!

  3. Loved The Lie Tree! Loved The Lockwood and Co books! Creeped out by The Night Gardener. Would you add the Jackaby series by William Ritter? They are more like suspense/fantasy/mysteries – Of course, Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children (Full disclosure, I did not read the rest of the series) and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.
    My students love this genre (7th graders).

  4. Brenna Greer says

    Great list. My middle grade students and I also love the Serafina and the Black Cloak series by Robert Beatty.

  5. The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street

  6. Eric Carpenter says

    Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

  7. You should check out the Haunted States of America series from Jolly Fish Press, too! It’s a delightfully creepy middle grade series based on real life ghost stories!

  8. I am a fan of Half-Minute Horrors, my favorites are a drawing by Jon Klassen and a story about a babysitter (I don’t remember who wrote it) it is truly messed up…

  9. Eric Carpenter says

    I can’t believe I forgot Thornhill. That one was genuinely scary.

  10. T Lawrence says

    While it’s a little older, middle school students also love Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak series (and all the spin offs). These might be more YA but a definite favorite of horror fans. Also, Department 19 series by Will Hill is a great read if you love vampires.