There's just something about fall. As the leaves change colors and the air crisps around your face, the earth starts to lull into it's seasonal slumber-
Well. Not so much here in Florida.
Still. The days are creeping shorter, and my bedside lamp turns on earlier while the AC takes longer to kick on. It just makes for the perfect mood to snuggle up on the end of the couch with my dog and crack open a good ghost story. Or one like it.
But it's difficult to find chilly reads appropriate for kids and preteens. While Goosebumps is a childhood staple (and I'm still not convinced that any new Goosebumps books actually exist or if they just appear on library shelves in already dog-eared condition - which sounds like a Goosebumps plot itself), they eventually become too childish or too low in reading level. It's hard to find stories that bridge the gap before getting into hardcore horror reads of young adults. Horror and suspense is my favorite book genre, but I'm not really into any hack and slash or body horror tropes that readily served as fodder for 80s teen slasher films.
But the books exist! And here's some of them to consider - all five star ratings from me:
- Lockwood and Co. by Jonathan Stroud (5 book series)
Ghosts, Talking skulls, Rapiers, and Unsupervised teenagers. What else could you want in a book?
Lockwood and Co. is a recent discovery of mine that I wish I had found sooner. Even as I blasted through the books I already dreaded the looming end of the series. It's skyrocketed to my top five favorite preteen series. If Scooby and the gang had dealt with ghosts instead of real estate moguls, it might look like Lockwood and Co. Just replace the dog with a ghost bound to a skull in a jar.
It's been 50 years since the start of The Problem, when ghosts began to rise and walk among the living. Ranging from annoying pests to life-threatening haunts, people hire specially trained agents to find the Source the ghost is attached to and dispose of it. The trouble is, grown-ups can't see ghosts. Only kids can.
Told from the point of view of Lucy, a tomboyish young teen with a special affinity for not only hearing ghosts but actually being able to speak to them, she and her associates - the dashing and headstrong Anthony Lockwood and bumbling but factual George Cubbins - take on cases and fight to secure their place as a renowned agency against The Problem. Lucy's special ability leads them to not only solved cases, but to the true cause of The Problem terrorizing London.
It's an amazing series that addresses the mystery of what-comes-after without definitively saying one way or another. Just long enough to get you hooked and to tell the story, but not long enough to run into the "struggling to stay relatable" issue. I haven't been this addicted to a series since Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.
- A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz
My problem with A Drowned Maiden's Hair is that I have nearly no way to describe it. It's like a ghost story! ...but it's not. It's like a mystery! ...but, it's not. It's like a magical adventure! But it's definitely not. I picked it up on a whim from a used bin and wasn't able to put it down until I finished it. I've since bought three more copies - two I've given away and one digital because I just had to read it again right then. I shelve it next to Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
Set in the turn of the 20th century, Maud is a headstrong and defiant orphan plucked from a girl's home by 3 elderly sisters, the Misses Hawthorne, descendents of a respectable and prominent family living in a large manor. Desperate to have a home, she promises to be very very good. But the rules in her new home are very strange - she is to remain a secret child. No one is to know she lives with them or even that she exists. When Maud realizes that her new home is falling into disrepair, the Misses Hawthorne reveal that they conduct seances - phony ones - to earn money and maintain the illusion of their diginified lifestyle. Maud was adopted to play the part of a little girl who drowned. Maud's resolve to remain perfectly good wears thin as she falls deeper into a world of intrigue and deception.
A Drowned Maiden's Hair is a fantastic read where the historical setting lends a rich background to the development of a little girl fighting to find her place in the world. Despite it's lack of actual supernatural acitivity, I find myself with chills every read.
- Nightbooks by J.A. White
Stories of witches in candy houses never meant much to me - intriguing in premise, but as that weird kid who didn't like candy, what was the draw? Nightbooks is the response. A Sunshine State Young Reader's Award Winner, Nightbooks has rightly earned it's status on my favorite spooky reads for kids. It's new twist on the classic witch in the forest folklore.
Alex love horror stories, even though he knows they don't have happy endings. He meant to destroy his stories when he was drawn to the strange apartment. Now he's a prisoner of a wicked witch, who allows him to live if each night he reads her one of his stories from his nightbooks. He knows he will eventually run out. Trapped in his own terrifying tale, he fights to change the ending.
Nightbooks falls on the younger end of the scale, but the story is no less engaging. The magic of storytelling and creation that all readers know of is the main meat of this spooky book.
Treading the line between too juvenile and too gory is difficult with the horror and suspense genre. Hopefully some of these will give your young readers - or you the young at heart - something to read long into the night, without any nightmares afterwards.