“When the mist rises, and the smiling man comes walking, you must avoid large places at night.”
“Don’t panic. That’s the first rule of survival. Never panic.”
— Katherine Arden, Small Spaces
(An abridged version of this article first appeared in Kingston Neighbours magazine, October, 2021.)
Is there any other holiday as popular cross-culturally in North America than Halloween? Dress-up, decorations, darkness, demons, dread and even death … Halloween thrills and chills us on so many levels. And a big part of Halloween tradition is scary tales. Told around a campfire, under a blanket with a flashlight, in a classroom with the lights off or curled up safe and sound next to a loved one, Halloween stories mesmerize most children. Whether your kiddos love a good jump-scare, or prefer something a little less terrifying, I’m sure you’ll find a story your kids will like on my spooktacular booklist. They’re frightfully good!
Board Books, ages 0 – 3+
Boo! Baa, La La La!, Sandra Boynton, 2021 — Joining other family Halloween favourites from Boynton such as Spooky Pookie and Eek! Halloween!, the author’s latest rhyming tale will delight preschoolers as Cow attempts to find the mysterious creature who baas in response to her “Boo!”
Picture Books, ages 4+
The Little Ghost Who Was A Quilt, Riel Nason, 2020 — A little ghost can’t float easily like the rest of his friends because he’s a bulky quilt, but after a thrilling Halloween adventure, he learns it’s okay to be different.
Novels, ages 9+
Dead Wednesday, Jerry Spinelli, 2021 — In a rather macabre assignment about mortality, the 8th graders in Amber Springs receive the names of local teens who died a preventable death, don black shirts in their memory, and then are treated as “dead” by their teachers. All is going fairly well for quiet student ‘Worm’ Tarnauer, until he starts seeing the ghost of his teen, Becca, who died in a car crash.
The Dollhouse, Charis Cotter, 2021 — Moving to a strange, rambling old house is not Alice’s idea of fun, but things turn even more eerie and mysterious when she finds a a replica dollhouse in the attic, a dollhouse that changes when Alice isn’t looking and haunts her dreams at night.
Ghost Hunter’s Daughter, Dan Poblocki, 2020 — Claire, the daughter of a TV ghost hunter, and Lucas, a boy who may have inherited his grandmother’s powers to speak to the dead, team up to solve the mysterious disappearance of Claire’s Dad.
Haunted Canada 10: More Scary True Stories, Joel A. Sutherland, 2020 — Perfect for reading aloud, the 10th installment of this popular short story series about true Canadian ghost stories does not disappoint, with blood-chilling tales of disembodied voices in an abandoned asylum in Quebec, a family haunted by a poltergeist in Nova Scotia, and the ghost of a killer frightening people in British Columbia,.
The Haunting, Lindsey Duga, 2020 — A 12 year-old orphan is adopted by a wealthy, young couple and goes to live on their estate Blackthorn Manor, where she befriends a mysterious girl but suddenly finds strange, and dangerous, things happening to her.
Hide And Don’t Seek, Anica Mrose Rissi, 2021 –– An all-new collection of 20 short but scary stories ideal for reading aloud, including tales of ghosts, monsters, crows and things that live under the bed.
Midnight on Strange Street, K.E. Ormsbee, 2020 — An action-packed sci-fi novel set in the near future against the back-drop of a global war, this book tells the story 4 middle-graders as they compete in an unusual new sport called glow-boarding while also contending with extraterrestrials and shadowy government operatives.
Small Spaces series: Small Spaces, Dead Voices & Dark Waters, Katherine Arden, 2018, 2019 & 2021 — A multi-award winner, Small Spaces, and the subsequent books in this junior horror series, Dead Voices and Dark Waters, are taut, suspenseful novels about Ollie and her new friends as they contend with terrifying supernatural events that will leave you warily watching out for scarecrows, ghosts, smiling men and lake monsters. The 4th novel in this popular series, still untitled, is expected in 2022.
Thirteens, Kate Alice Marshall, 2020 — A newcomer to the seemingly idyllic town of Eden Eld, middle-schooler Eleanor thinks she is going crazy because she starts seeing things others can’t — ghosts, dogs with glowing red eyes, a large bird of bones. Then she meets Pip and Otto and learns that she is not alone, but her relief is short-lived as the trio discovers their fates are tied to an ancient curse.
YA Books, ages 12+
Ghost Wood Song, Erica Waters, 2020 — In order to save her brother, Shady Grove must learn her gift of calling ghosts with her dead father’s fiddle. Generational grief, an LGBTQ+ love story, and gothic elements make this an eerie yet emotionally satisfying read for young adults.
The Stitchers, Lorien Lawrence, 2020 — In this first book in the Fright Watch horror series, middle grader Quinn and her neighbour, Mike, are determined to uncover the truth behind her mysterious neighbours who never seem to age, but the closer they get, the more dangerous it becomes.
Violet Ghosts, Leah Thomas, 2021 — A transgender teen and his best friend, a ghost named Sarah, open a shelter for the tormented ghosts of murdered women. A timely but dark and complex ghost story, this novel also explores trans acceptance, violence towards women, trauma, codependency and healing.
From sweet and funny to action-packed to heart-wrenching and downright terrifying, these new books will delight young and old alike. Happy Halloween — beware, be safe and be good!