While horror might not be the first genre you think of in terms of children’s literature, lots of ‘light’ horror books exist in the genre. I enjoy a good horror novel every now and then, especially in October, and I’ve been very much enjoying all the Halloween picture books Marian and I have been reading. With these two things in mind, here are four horror books for children and adults that both Marian and I enjoy!
Horror Books for Adults
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
Trigger warning for explicit violence against children.
I know many people who didn’t know what this book was going to be about before reading it. I’ve read many changeling child folklore, so I knew the premise before going in. I can imagine how shocking and horrific it would be if a reader didn’t, however. So word to the wise, this gets grim. In changeling child folklore, a child suspected of being a goblin is tortured until they reveal themselves. This sometimes played out in real life. There have even been cases in the 20th century of families torturing their babies in the belief that they were a changeling child.
Despite knowing what the main plot point would be, this book still held a lot of surprises. LaValle is an excellent character writer, and despite the plot being slow to develop, he had me completely invested in the characters. This is an excellent horror and fairytale read.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I realize there’s a very real possibility most of you have already read this, but if you haven’t, amend that immediately! This is my favorite haunted house novel. I only just discovered Shirley Jackson last year despite having performed a monologue of “The Lottery” in high school. Please, you must read this! I love how Jackson writes characters and utilizes horror elements to slowly unravel a character’s personality. In fact, she and LaValle are similar in that respect, and I suspect most of the horror I enjoy utilizes a similar technique, all derived from Shirley Jackson and Daphne DuMaurier, I feel. This book is also extremely feminist.
Horror Books for Children
Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak
This pairs perfectly with The Changeling. Outside Over There is my favorite Maurice Sendak book, and one of my favorite picture books of all time. It’s gorgeous, like a Renaissance painting mixed with that uniquely Sendak look all his characters have. It’s also a lovely poem about a changeling child, and a sister that’s not about to let her little sister be made into a goblin princess. The movie Labyrinth with David Bowie is based on this picture book. I gave this book to a dear friend at a baby shower years ago. Now my friend’s little girl is four, but her daughter is scared of this book! That makes me sad, but I hope she reads it someday, or maybe it’ll be more to her youngest daughter’s taste!
Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Try pairing The Haunting of Hill House with this much sweeter haunted house tale. Tilly and Marian reviewed it last year, but despite having read many more spooky picture books since then, it’s still one of my favorites. I wish we owned a copy! Leo haunts a house but he really just wants to be friends with the new family that moves in, but they keep misunderstanding his friendly overtures! This makes him sad. But don’t fear, this is a picture book with a happy ending. As always with Christian Robinson, the illustrations are lovely.
Do you have an adult/child horror pairing?
Looking for more adult novels to pair with picture books? Check out these lists!