The 20 Best Children’s Horror Books – Ultimate Guide

It’s not easy being a horror fan who wants to introduce their kids to their favorite genre. Most will look at a genre like horror and think there’s no way it can be made to work for kids, much less to read as a bedtime story! Horror is malleable to anything though, and we’ve gone through some of the best horrors for children of all ages, whether read out loud or on their own.

The 20 Best Children's Horror Books - Ultimate Guide

While these 20 best children’s horror books are great for all ages, we’ve specifically put this together with ages ten and under in mind. So, the books mentioned here won’t be scary so much as spooky and dark (if you’re looking for scary books for an older reader, check out our guide to Scary Books for Teens here). We want to give kids a love of horror, not scare them away, so a lot of these will be books that give that Halloween feeling, a late autumn feel and a chill in the air like something spooky is just around the corner.

The 20 Best Children’s Horror Books

The Ghost-Eye Tree by Bill Martin Jr.

The Ghost-Eye Tree (Owlet Book)

A classic children’s story with a spooky setting from legendary kids writer Bill Martin Jr. A staple of schoolroom classes since releasing in the late 80s, The Ghost-Eye Tree is the perfect blend of spooky and engaging, giving a tale of two kids making their way across their small town as the sun goes down, leaving an autumn chill and the strange Ghost-Eye tree to watch them.

Great for all ages and a blast to read out loud, taking advantage of the atmosphere to get some giggles and screams from whoever is listening, whether it be ghosts or humans.

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The Ghosts Go Scaring by Chrissy Bozik

The Ghosts Go Scaring

If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Just put a new little spin on whatever it is, a nice coat of paint, and you’re good to go. That’s what Chrissy Bozik does here with the old song/nursery rhyme “The Ants Go Marching” set to be about ghosts and ghouls instead of the common bugs.

It’s not super long but it’s a fun one to get kids involved in the story and sing along. As an added benefit, it’s useful when helping to learn numbers one through ten if that’s something currently being taught.

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Goodnight Goon by Michael Rex

Goodnight Goon (A Petrifying Parody)

In another case of a new coat of paint on a classic story or rhyme, Rex takes the seminal Goodnight Moon and instead takes readers on a goodnight tour of all kinds of horror ghosts and monsters. I’m not entirely sure how this book got into my possession but it’s one of my three-year-old son’s favorites, and we read it often.

It gets pretty silly and has fun illustrations that go with it, not too scary but just that right mix of spooky and silly. Perfect for bedtime and goodnights, letting children read along with parents as they get to know the story.

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Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Where The Wild Things Are: Book and CD

Not overtly horror, but the Wild Things themselves are presented as terrifying creatures at first. Though they don’t stay that way for long and quickly become friends, the illustrations still have a little dark twist on them and the story just can’t be passed up.

If anyone somehow hasn’t read this story, it’s a classic about one boy who journeys off to become a wild thing, meeting a group of monsters who he befriends.

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The Little Shop of Monsters by RL Stine

The Little Shop Of Monsters

The most prolific writer in young horror brings his talents to a kids’ picture book with famed illustrator Marc Brown. When two kids step into a strange pet shop they get shown a range of various monsters they could choose to adopt. The monsters range from silly to spooky.

The illustrations are really fun, and the monster designs are just the thing Stine needs to bring his words to life in this storybook. Perfect for bedtime reading.

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Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds

Creepy Carrots!

Jasper is a rabbit that loves carrots. LOVES them. He eats carrots every chance he gets, everywhere he can. Until he starts to think that the carrots in his garden might not be too happy with Jasper eating them. 

Fun, silly horror with Jasper being a loveable and sort of goofy protagonist for kids to like. As a bonus, this is just one of many books following Jasper and his adventures with the silly, supernatural characters he meets.

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Disney Scary Storybook Collection by Various Authors

Disney Scary Storybook Collection

Disney is usually a safe bet to tiptoe the line between spooky and whimsical unless we count The Brave Little Toaster which is just trauma in a cartoon. The stories in this collection won’t get that dark though, simply putting Disney regulars like Mickey Mouse, Peter Pan, and the Toy Story crew into spooky situations and mysteries. 

There’s something here for almost every child with a mix of newer and older Disney characters, with stories taking place in the world of Finding Nemo, Inside Out, and Fox and the Hound just a few out of eighteen total stories. A new edition comes out every few years as well with more stories added, usually featuring recent movies around the time of publishing.

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Just In Case by Yuyi Morales

Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book

Something I love about introducing reading at a young age is being able to share all the diverse traditions that my family may not share, but are still awesome parts of history and culture. There’s always a bonus when the books include early learning along with the theme, as in this case.

The picture book is about the journey of Senor Calvera, a skeleton of Dia de Los Muertos who is desperate to find a gift for his mother. With one piece of misheard advice, he sets out on a journey to not bring his mother just one gift, but one for every letter of the Spanish alphabet. There’s tons of fun, a little spookiness with the celebrations spirits taking center stage, and great for reading out loud.

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Poultrygeist by Eric Geron


The pun is as old as time but never fails to get a giggle. Geron’s story is more in the silly and mischievous vein, starting with one unfortunate chicken trying to cross the road and not making it.

The book follows the chicken’s ghost as it haunts the road, tasked with scaring travelers that pass through. He doesn’t want to scare though, and does his best to try and help with mixed results.

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The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything

The title is pretty self-explanatory, but this is a classic storybook for any kid, especially around Halloween when that autumn chill starts creeping in and the sun goes down earlier. This story is fun to read out loud and builds all the suspense to get your audience to jump with screams and laughs.

A woman who, surprise, isn’t afraid of anything has to go out on a chilly night. Then she starts to get a little afraid, and things just start to build and build until she reaches her destination for a fun laugh to finish out the story.

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Ghost Afraid of the Dark by Sara Conway

Ghost Afraid of the Dark-Follow Boo the Ghost as he Celebrates his First Halloween with all his Monster Friends and Discovers how to be Brave

Boo is just your average little ghost excited about celebrating Halloween with his friends, except he’s worried because while he’s a ghost, he’s afraid of the dark! While it’s set during Halloween this is a great read any time of year, and great for any children that may need help getting through some fears of the dark.

Plus the book has glow-in-the-dark parts and any book that has those automatically goes to the “Awesome” shelf.

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Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Max Braillier

Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories: An Acorn Book (Mister Shivers #1) (1)

Braillier has a series for older children called The Last Kids on Earth that’s delightful fun with light horror, but his Beneath the Bed is slanted towards a younger audience just starting to transition from story books to chapters.

Beneath the Bed holds multiple stories fit for younger readers that play on common fears we all have at some point. It’s also part of a series by the author called Mr. Shivers, which is meant for beginning readers and offers even more short horrors playing with more tropes like creatures under the bed and dolls moving while humans sleep.

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Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson

Room on the Broom

Another classic storybook read in classrooms, Room on the Broom follows a witch and her cat as they take a ride on her broom during a windy night. As everything is blown away by the wind they manage to recover it with help from various critters.

It’s a fun, whimsical rhyming story with the characters frequently trying to figure out how there will be room for all of them on the quickly overloaded broom. The illustrations are hilarious as things go on with everybody piled up.

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Charlie the Choo Choo by Stephen King

Charlie the Choo-Choo: From the world of The Dark Tower

Just when we thought we were safe from Stephen King on a book list, Charlie the Choo Choo comes chugging in on his tracks. The living locomotive of King’s Dark Tower series is the star of the show with this children’s picture book set in the same universe.

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Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe

Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery

Where would we as a society be without Bunnicula? It’s quite possibly one of the earliest intros to horror most kids had in their school libraries. Every October there would be a waiting list for this story in my school library because of its popularity.

The cat and dog of the Monroe house are suspicious of the newest addition to the family- a terrifying bunny with red eyes and sharp fangs. It’s goofy, spooky, and just fun in the purest form.

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Eerie Elementary by Jack Chabert and Sam Ricks

Eerie Elementary, Books 1-4: A Branches Box Set

Eerie Elementary is another great series for transitioning readers into longer chapter books. Focusing on one school constantly experiencing various paranormal or cryptid issues, the characters are funny and the series has fun twists on established horror tropes.

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Coraline by Neil Gaiman


Coraline will forever be classic and rare in that it’s a long story that older children can take on by themselves as well as great for reading out loud to smaller children. Gaiman’s story about Coraline’s adventures in her strange new home will thrill and chill readers of any age.

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: The Complete Collection

Another classic that everyone should read at some point in their lives, no matter how old you are. While the scariest part of the books are the illustrations that came packed within the pages, most of the stories themselves are relatively child friendly to read out loud. Just read yourself first to determine if your child is at the right age for each story, as they can range.

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The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

The Halloween Tree

Bradbury’s love letter to the holiday is something for all ages whether read out loud or as an introduction to chapter books. Eight boys on Halloween night have to journey across time and the origins of Halloween itself to save their friend. As much information on the history of the night as it is a spooky adventure story.

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Poesy the Monster Slayer by Cory Doctorow

Poesy the Monster Slayer

Poesy isn’t afraid, and can’t be held back by something as silly as bedtime when it comes to slaying monsters that come out at night. A silly, fun story that’s just as good of a message on not being afraid of the dark as it is a fun story about slaying imaginary monsters in high fantasy fashion.

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With these, you can introduce any kids to the world of thrills and chills that comprise the horror genre. Books are the easiest way to get kids interested and let them foster a love of spooky, chilling stories of ghosts and monsters that will grow with them, quickly becoming a monster of their own as they move on to older and greater books you enjoy. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes horror books child-friendly?

As always, it’s completely up to the parents and guardians of the children in question to determine what’s appropriate for their kids. Usually though, with children’s horror, it’s more of an aesthetic than it is the content of the story. A lot of kids’ books will take established tropes or stories and just give them a twist like ghosts or monsters, just taking the general scary aesthetic and making it age appropriate.

What’s the best way to introduce children to horror?

Well, from personal experience letting them watch Alien at three years old is not the way to go, so scratch that one off the list. Any of the story books mentioned on the list above are great places to introduce any child interested in the genre. Other great ways are with films like Nightmare Before Christmas, which combine horror looks with musical hijinks. Then there’s the classic- It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! which is a staple of every Halloween.

Where should children go after finishing these stories? What’s the next step in the genre?

The best place to go if the children are ready for something a little darker and more on the scary side, getting away from the cutesy silly range for the most part then definitely go with Goosebumps. RL Stine’s series is the go-to for anyone diving deeper into the horror journey as a kid. Everything from creature features to slasher and more are explored and there’s something for everyone to find out what they prefer.

Are there any prolific horror authors for children’s horror?

When it comes to horror for younger readers, RL Stine is like Stephen King for kids. A massive bibliography, filmography, and just branding, in general, make him a powerhouse when it comes to the kids’ horror scene. 

Bruce Coville often goes unrecognized as he often borders on sci-fi and fantasy over horror, but he does have decent horror themes through his My Teacher is an Alien series and a lot of his short stories lean scarier than his novels.

Is horror okay for children to read?

Even better, horror is good for children to read! Horror stories can have massive effects on mental and emotional development, with stories giving kids examples of critical thinking situations, problem-solving, and knowledge of other cultures’ traditions or history they may not learn otherwise. Horror has benefits for every age!

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Ross Tyson