Spooky Books for Kids: The Ultimate Creepy Guide

By Gwen Glazer, Librarian
October 24, 2018

It's Halloween, and your friendly neighborhood librarians are here to recommend their favorite eerie reads for kids. From gently mysterious to genuinely terrifying, scary stories are the order of the day.

kid witch

A determined baby witch from NYPL's postcard collection. ID 1587804.

Remember, caretakers and parents: No one knows your kiddos as well as you do, so make sure you take a good look at these books before you hand them to your children or start reading them out loud. Creepiness is very subjective, and our guidelines and categories are very general—a book that pleasantly spooks one first-grader may horrify another one! Your mileage will vary, so please make sure you read these books before giving them to your kids.   

And if you're looking for scary stories for older readers, check out our new recommendations on haunted-house stories,  Gothic horror, and Gothic fiction for young adults.

green monster
creepy carrots
monster trucks

Picture Books

What, if anything, can scare the mighty Darth Vader? In Adam Rex's Are You Scared, Darth Vader?, the usual cast of spooky characters tries to scare Vader but all are humorously deterred. Playful and filled with charmingly spooky illustrations, this story  is a great read-aloud for Star Wars fans young and old, as well as fans of The Monster at the End of this Book—Christy Lau, Chatham Square

In The Amazing Bone by William Steig, Pearl encounters highway robbers, a hungry fox, and an unexpected savior. It’s creepiness that sneaks up on you, hidden behind colorful and inviting illustrations, but filled with dread and magic! —Seth Pompi, Ottendorfer

“WHERE'S. MY. TAILYPO?” So thunders the strange creature that lives in the woods by the old man who lopped off a tail and ate it for dinner. In this spine-tingling picture book  The Tailypo: A Ghost Story  written by Joanna Galdone and illustrated by Paul Galdone  readers will shiver in delight at the completely creepy atmosphere. —Kate Fais, Bloomingdale

Monster Trucks by Anika Denise is an adorably spooky tale of ghoulish vehicles who come together to race. Coming to join the race is a less than devilish mini-van, who comes to show those big bad trucks who;s really boss. This picture book won’t terrify (but will delight) your little ones. —Shauntee Burns-Simpson, MyLibraryNYC

Go Away, Big Green Monster  by Ed Emberley. This classic monster story is a great way to empower little readers who are afraid. (And if you like this one, try another empowering monster story: Tickle Monster by Edouard Manceau.) —Tara Thomas, St. George

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was and is wildly terrifying. The psychological horror of being sentient yet “locked-in” while your family mourns you mere steps away is straight out of Stephen King. —Grace Yamada, Mulberry Street

The Squeaky Door by Margaret Read McDonald. A little boy spends the night at grandma's, but her squeaky door scares him.  What can she do to ease his fear? Spooky and funny at the same time. —Rachel Hanig, Woodlawn Heights

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds
Jasper Rabbit loves carrots. He loves going to Crackenhopper Field and eating lots and lots of carrots. Until one day he suspects the carrots are following him and he begins to see sinister carrots everywhere! Illustrator Peter Brown's black and white drawings--with only the color orange for carrots-create a suspenseful Twilight Zone style that complements Reynold's humorous story. —Chelsea Arnold, West Farms

The Black Rabbit by Philipp Leathers. Anxious to flee the large black rabbit chasing him, Rabbit falls into the path of a ferocious foe.  Will he survive?  Only the shadow knows —Tara Thomas, St. George

A favorite at our house has always been the gorgeously illustrated The Widow's Broom by Chris van Allsburg. A tired old woman accepts the help of a magical broom, which greatly concerns her nosy neighbors. —Maura Muller, Volunteer Office

Don't miss the adventures of the sweet, little ghost in Georgie by Robert Bright, a truly special book around for almost 75 years. A Halloween classic. —Maura Muller, Volunteer Office

thelma bee

Elementary-School Fiction (roughly grades 2-5)

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee by Erin Petti combines everything I love in one book: creepy ghosts, a parental kidnapping, humor, and curious kids. Will Thelma be able to save her father? Read to find out! —Alexandria Abenshon, Webster

It's a bit of a throwback, but, upon rereading Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn, I instantly recognized the same chilling scenes that scared the bejeebers out of me when I was a kid. Siblings Molly and Michael don't get along well with their new stepsister, Heather, and things only get worse when Heather elicits the help of a ghost to harm the rest of her family. This short chapter book is perfect for kids who are ready to foray into the spookier side of fiction — and who have a trusty nightlight beside their bed! —Lyndsie Guy, Chatham Square

For a slightly younger kid, I always go to Hostage by Willo Davis Roberts.  A bungled burglary and a kid held hostage!?  Yikes! (But I always tell parents not to worry.  It's more PG than it sounds.) —Jenny Rosenoff, Children’s Center

Held captive by the dream-reading proprietress of an inn, Aaron discovers there truly is power in the written word. My third-grade teacher read this story  The Half-a-Moon Inn by Paul Fleishman — aloud to us after recess; we were spellbound. —Tara Thomas, St. George

A kids' book that will definitely give even an adult the creeps is called The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt. From the wording to the beautiful black and white pictures, this book captures the very essence of spooky story. —Carolyn Lawrence, Morrisania 

When I was nine or ten years old, I was a fan of the Goosebumps series.  The author, R. L. Stine, wrote a large number of spooky stories about various supernatural creatures such as werewolves, ghosts, mummies, and monsters. —Christina Lebec, Bronx Library Center

night gardner
house with a clock
scar island

Middle-Grade Fiction (roughly grades 6-8)

As I rise at the crack of dawn at the beck and call of my cat, I am reminded of The Improbable Cat by Allan Ahlberg. A young boy is the only one immune to a strange cat's hypnotic control of his family. — Rosa Caballero-Li, Ask NYPL

Set in Victorian England, The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier tells the tale of two orphaned siblings who escape the Irish famine by finding work in a creepy manor full of secrets. Character driven, infinitely unsettling, and full of depth, unsettling tale is a modern classic. —Jessica Agudelo, St. Agnes

The creepiest book I recommend to young horror fans is The Thief of Always by Clive Barker (cataloged as adult sci-fi in our collection, but definitely an elementary age children's book). Ten-year-old Harvey Swick runs away from home to the Holiday House, a magical place where there's no school, no parents, and every night is Halloween. But Holiday House isn't as perfect as it seems — there are dark secrets hidden in the house. Once Harvey discovers where he really is, he may have to give up everything to escape. —Benjamin Sapadin, Morris Park

The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright is one that I book talk every October. Night after night, Amy's family of dolls re-enacts the murder of her great-grandparents. Toys that move and an unsolved murder… what else could a reader ask for? —Sue Yee, Children’s Center

With the movie coming out, the obvious pick is The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs. An oldie but still a goodie, with witches, wizards, undead, and the end of the world. —Nicole Rosenbluth, Pelham Bay (and a second vote from Clarissa Cooke, 96th Street)

Author Dan Poblocki delivers real haunted house frights with his creepy Shadow House series. In book one, five orphans find themselves mysteriously invited to a deadly house with a strange past that has no intention of letting them escape. Genuine suspense and scares abound through the three book series and the covers and photo illustrations are no joke too. Perfect for fans of Goosebumps who are ready to up the ante. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street

The Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand is a dark, creepy, and atmospheric story about a girl whose best friend goes missing. It's very similar in mood to Coraline by Neil Gaiman —another chilling read set in a world where everything is not what it seems to be. —Andrea Lipinski, Kingsbridge

Every volume in C.S Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia has unique horrifying monsters and grotesque punishments, but the one that haunts me to this day is The Magician's Nephew — particularly the scenes of the dead world and the void. —Grace Yamada, Mulberry Street

For those rapidly approaching PG-13, my go-to book for the last year has been Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart.  Eerie and atmospheric, find out what happens when all the adults at an already dysfunctional boys' detention facility die in a freak accident.  Did I mention that this facility is on a creepy island that's slowly (or not so slowly) sinking deeper into the ocean? —Jenny Rosenoff, Children’s Center

tales suburbia
scary stories
dark room

... and some middle-grade short stories, too.

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan is about a typical suburban neighborhood turned on its head. Think The Burbs meets Home, and you’re getting close. From the inside cover to the very last page, this book is full to bursting with creepy, weird, and beautiful art with short stories to match. If you're a fan of Grimm's Fairy Tales or Neil Gaiman then this would very likely appeal to you. — Alicea Porterfield-Brock, Tremont

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz still haunts me to this day. Short on visceral detail and long in suggestion, each story basically built up a scary situation and then cut off right as the kids were about to encounter whatever was looming out there looking for them. Here’s the record to the original printing, illustrated by Stephen Gamill, because the cover art and line drawings inside really added to the back-of-the-neck crawly feelings. Here’s a link to the updated version. —Erin Arlene Horanzy, Francis Martin

Check out In a Dark, Dark Room, and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz. My favorite story is "The Girl with the Green Ribbon." It's a classic, and it was even adapted for adults in Carmen Machado's Her Body and Other Parties—Sarah West, Aguilar

If you enjoy creepy short stories, The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister might be the perfect book for you. It was written by four different children's authors, and their different voices ensure it’s never boring. There's magic, mystery, and straight-up horror. The black-and-white illustrations that accompany each story are absolutely perfect. — Alicea Porterfield-Brock, Tremont

What are your favorite creepy books for kids? Let us know in the comments!


Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations.