12 Creepy Kids Books That Scarred Us for Life

    These darker tales intended for children are guaranteed to give you nightmares.

    The image of hundreds of baby spiders exploding out of a horrified girl’s face is probably emblazoned in your memory for the rest of time thanks to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. On top of that, you probably have the rest of these creepy kids books to thank for your mounting therapy bills. As an adult, it’s shocking to revisit these books and wonder how in the world anyone thought these were appropriate for children. Buckle up and brace yourselves for this terrifying walk down memory lane.

    Footsteps on the Stairs

    By C.S. Adler

    This YA novel from C.S. Adler pretty much ruined family vacations for us. We’re introduced to Dodie, who is at a beach house to get to know her new stepbrother and stepsister Anne. At first, Anne and Dodie butt heads, but when they hear some mysterious footsteps outside their door, the two must come together to appease the restless ghosts, who also happen to be sisters! Not really your ideal trip …

    Footsteps on the Stairs

    By C.S. Adler

    The Legend of the Irish Castle

    By Gertrude Warner

    The scariest entry in the Boxcar Children series, The Legend of the Irish Castle takes the Alder children on a visit to Ireland. They are met by a mysterious caretaker, and at night are terrified by the sight of a ghostly figure wandering the grounds. Could it be a prank, or is the Irish castle actually haunted? Leave it to the Boxcar Children to solve the mystery; but as kids, we could barely turn the page.

    The Legend of the Irish Castle

    By Gertrude Warner

    The Spirit House

    By William Sleator

    It’s always exciting when a foreign exchange student comes to stay with your family—but not if that foreign exchange student turns out to be some kind of demon! When Julie’s brother Dominic builds a Thai spirit house for foreign exchange student Bia, to help him feel more at home, Bia changes … and not for the better. This book had us telling our parents we could skip the foreign exchange program, uh, indefinitely.

    The Spirit House

    By William Sleator

    The Scariest Night

    By Betty Wright

    Erin had it made as the beloved only child in her family, until her parents took in Cowper—a nine-year-old musical prodigy whose parents were killed in a car crash. Suddenly, Erin finds herself uprooted to Milwaukee so that Cowper can take piano lessons. When Erin meets the medium Molly Pancea, all heck breaks loose. Long story short, this book lived up to its title.

    The Scariest Night

    By Betty Wright

    The Witches

    By Roald Dahl

    There aren’t words to describe the first time you read Roald Dahl’s absolutely terrifying book, The Witches. Re-reading it as an adult has you asking serious questions about the novel being intended for children. As if it weren’t bad enough that the main character is orphaned, he’s also being hunted for a witch’s supper! Throw in some face-removing scenes and mouse transformations, and you’ve got the stuff of nightmares. Forever.

    The Witches

    By Roald Dahl

    Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

    By Alvin Schwartz

    The stories in this three-volume series by Alvin Schwartz are made even more terrifying by the brain-searing illustrations by Stephen Gammell that accompanied them. Remember the girl who had a spider lay eggs IN HER FACE? All the stories included in this collection are based on folklore and urban legend, so they definitely stand the test of time. Schwartz would be happy to know he’s kept therapists in business from the never-ending trauma of reading this book.

    Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

    By Alvin Schwartz

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    Wait Til Helen Comes

    By Mary Downing Hahn

    After reading this young adult novel, we became that friend in the group who said, “Hey, how about we DON’T wait until Helen comes?” Basically, if your parents get remarried and you move to a house with a graveyard in the backyard, it might be a good time to ask your mom if you can go to boarding school. As if Heather’s life wasn’t tumultuous enough, now she’s got a ghost named Helen to deal with, who wants Heather to join her . . . on the other side. Nope. Just no.

    Wait Til Helen Comes

    By Mary Downing Hahn

    Coraline

    By Neil Gaiman

    Coraline has always wondered where that mysterious door in the back of the drawing room leads. Doesn’t she know that curiosity killed the cat? Behind the mystery door there’s a bizarro world, where everything appears the same, but is just wrong—including her parents’ creepy black button eyes! How in the world are we (and Coraline) supposed to get back to the real world? Thanks, Coraline, for the night terrors.

    Coraline

    By Neil Gaiman

    Outside Over There

    By Maurice Sendak

    We’re all familiar with Sendak’s classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, but maybe you never had the pleasure of reading his later book, Outside Over There, in which young Ida must rescue her baby sister from goblins. You read that right: goblins. And not friendly, singing David Bowie goblins like in Labyrinth. Nope, these terrifying goblins have you questioning why anyone would read a book to a child that was inspired by the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. Not kidding!

    Outside Over There

    By Maurice Sendak

    In a Dark, Dark Room

    By Alvin Schwartz

    We love to be scared (and scarred) by Alvin Schwartz so much we had to include his collection for younger readers on this list as well. In a Dark, Dark Room includes the scare-the-bejesus-out-of-you short story “The Green Ribbon,” about the girl who wears a green ribbon around her neck. And don’t ask what happens if she takes it off, because oh my god are you crazy?

    In a Dark, Dark Room

    By Alvin Schwartz

    Bridge to Terabithia

    By Katherine Paterson

    We had to include this YA novel by Katherine Paterson not because it’s “creepy,” but because it’s totally and utterly traumatizing. Spoiler alert: But that “bridge” (a rope swing) is not so secure. What started out as a delightful book about young love and magical realism ends as a bleak, slap-in-the-face allegory about death and loss. Let’s just say, after we read this we immediately begged our parents to get us on the swim team.

    Bridge to Terabithia

    By Katherine Paterson

    Holes

    By Louis Sachar

    Despite the fact that this book won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Newbery Medal (and is a classic), looking back now … this story is downright terrifying. Poor Stanley Yelnats, suffering from a family curse, is wrongly sent to a juvenile detention center where he must spend the whole day digging holes five feet wide and five feet deep. What is he digging for? Suddenly arts and crafts at summer camp seems rather tame.

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    Featured image: "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark"

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