Children's Chapter for Halloween


Happy Halloween! I admit it. I am a horror/suspense/thriller novel junkie from way back. My love affair with the spine tingling genre began as a young reader and has never abated.  

Question: What’s as good as reading a good scary book?

Answer: Sharing a good scary book with  middle grades readers. As an elementary school teacher I was able to share my love of the genre with fifth graders. There’s something special about reading a scary story aloud, using different voices for different characters, and stopping at that cliff-hanger moment. It’s  rewarding to see them leaning forward to listen, bodies tense with suspense, and then see them relax with disappointment at the end of a session. What’s even better than that is when those readers go to the library and ask for other books by that author! 

Question: Are scary stories good for children?

Answer: I say yes.  Scary stories serve a purpose. Stories are a safe place to experience emotions. Children can feel emotions like fear and anxiety through a character’s actions and thoughts without being in actual physical danger. And we know that learning how to feel, express, and deal with emotions is an important part of childhood development. A little suspense and resolution in a safe situation is a release.

Question: How can I share scary stories with children?

Answer:  Of course, it’s important to know your audience. You don’t want to cause nightmares or trauma. After you have determined which book you would like to share there are many options. You can read aloud. Sitting next to someone you love while you share something suspenseful is reassuring and powerful. 

You can listen to an audiobook during car travels. I suggest trying Librofm as an audiobook option.

You can read the same book as your young reader. In this way you can talk about characters and motives and choices. It also validates the youngster as a reader. When a child knows that an adult is reading the same thing they are reading, it leaves the impression that the reading is valuable.

You can have a family book night. I know a family that has a weekly book night. Every Wednesday, for an hour after dinner, the entire family gathers in the family room and reads. They each read their own book, but it’s still a communal activity. I love that idea. If I still had children at home, I think I would adopt the practice.

Question: What scary books are out there for middle grades readers?

Answer: There are choices galore! But let’s talk about one special author. Mary Downing Hahn could be called the Stephen King of children’s literature. She published her first book in 1979 and is still contributing to the genre. Her novels are the standard to which all other children’s thrillers are compared. Here are some of my favorites:

The Thirteenth Cat  This is the latest of Hahn’s 41 published middle grades thrillers. It came out in September of this year. Zoey is spending the summer with her aunt and next to her house is a creepy, overgrown forest. There are feral cats in the forest and rumors of dark forces in the woods. Zoey is in danger as she tries to discover the secret of the cats and the old woman that lives in the woods.

Wait Till Helen Comes was probably the breakthrough novel for Hahn. First published in 1987 it still stands as  a quality ghost story. It’s about Heather, a lonely girl who finds a new friend: a ghost named Helen. And Helen wants to lure children into the pond--to drown! Will Heather’s new stepsister be able to save her? Spoiler: She does.

Took: A Ghost Story  Daniel and his family have moved from Connecticut to rural West Virginia. The kids at school tell him about the scary old auntie in the woods that steals children. They’re just messing with the new kid--right? Then Daniel’s 7 year old sister goes missing. Was she “took”? 

The Puppet’s Payback and Other Chilling Tales This would be a great choice for an introduction to the genre in general or Mary Downing Hahn in particular. The stories are short enough to each be read in one session. Although the plots are more predictable and the characters not as well developed as in her novels, the stories are still fun and a little bit scary.

October is a great time for some fun, scary stories.The air is crisp, it gets dark a little earlier each day, and, after all--Halloween is just around the corner!


Review by Luanne Clark