Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation

All the Lovely Bad Ones: Creepy Children in Scary Books


Forget the terrible twos, last week’s blog Horror Books that Go Bump in the Night list led to a discussion of Rosemary’s Baby and other similar tales in which parents suffer at the hands of their offspring. None of the children in the following books are supernatural and I suppose that's what make them so terrifying. 


Like in any dark fairytale, a couple's charmed life is interrupted by the arrival of a child. At least that is the case with the following two titles. It’s not so much the kids but the parents who need a timeout in Breed by Chase Novak. More than anything Alex and Leslie want a child and they get their wish through an experimental fertility treatment that transforms the wealthy couples in NYC into something feral. The couple in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child also have everything going for them: four wonderful children, a beautiful home, loving friends and family. Then they decide to test their luck by adding another child to the mix. Not a good sign when the baby is described as a “troll or a goblin.”

The Fifth Child

Gillian Flynn broke out with Gone Girl but my favorite book of hers is her first novel Sharp Objects. There’s so many levels of wrong here. After years of self-imposed exile reporter Camille returns to her hometown to investigate the murder of two pre-teen girls. She stays with her hypochondriac mother and her beautiful half-sister who takes her mean girl role in the town to whole new levels.  

Sharp Objects

The Bad Seed by William March and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson show that previous generations also found creepiness in kiddies. It's a question of nurture vs. nature in Bad Seed. Even a mother’s love cannot blind Christine Penmark from suspecting her daughter of killing a classmate. This book was nominated for the 1955 National Book Award for Fiction and the film version was nominated for an Academy Award in 1956.

The Bad Seed

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

And so begins Shirley Jackson’s last novel. This is one you will stay up reading all night just to figure out what exactly happened that fateful day when Merricat and her elder sister Constance managed not to eat blackberries sprinkled with arsenic that killed most of their family.

While looking up these titles I ran across two other books which I immediately placed on my hold list: The Other by Tryon Thomas and Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye. Any others you can think of?


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

It's not really a horror book

It's not really a horror book, but I have to put a good word in for We Need to Talk About Kevin. Read it, seriously!

I will add it to my my list!

I will add it to my my list!

Horror books about children

I haven't thought about The Other in years, I think maybe it is time for a re-read. The Shirley Jackson book is going to be hitting my tbr, also. Thank-you for this post.

Thank you for your comment.

Thank you for your comment. The Other is now in transit to me, can't wait to start reading it.

Ben from "the fifth child"

Ben from "the fifth child" may be autistic and not evil. I would add "the witches of worm".

Thank you for your suggestion

Thank you for your suggestion. I can't believe I never came across The Witches of Worm growing up. Much has been debated about Ben which is part of the appeal of the book. In a New York Times interview Doris Lessing described her work as a "classic horror story."

Loved The Bad Seed!

Saw the movie, read the book many years ago. I was surprised to recognize the quote from the title coming from James Whitcomb Riley's dedication to his poem Little Orphant Annie because I just did an audio blog of it. Here's the link:

Great post! I first came

Great post! I first came across the poem through All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

*The* Classic


You're right!

You're right!

Evil children in literature

I can't believe no one mentioned The Midwich Cuckoos about alien children. Made into a fabulous movie in the early 1960s called, Village of the Damned. All of the children have white-blond hair and glowing eyes. CREEPY!!!!!!

Post new comment