Damaris Young: My top spooky middle grade reads
Published on: 16 October 2019 Author: Damaris Young
It's #Spooktober and in the lead up to Halloween, author Damaris Young tells us what her favourite haunting reads are for 8-12s.
There is a wonderful thrill from reading stories about things going bump in the night, that send shivers down your spine and make you feel all the braver for having read. Spooky stories about courageous characters can give young readers hope and inspire bravery as they learn to navigate an often-scary world.
My Debut The Switching Hour was a product of my own childhood fears of the dark. In order to overcame those terrors, I made up adventurous stories to entertain my younger siblings, with us as the heroic protagonists. In The Switching Hour, Amaya lives with her Grandma, her small brother Kaleb and her pet goat in a land that is suffering a terrible drought.
Each night at twilight the doors must be locked because the drought has awoken a creature that steals children to eat their dreams.
Once the child has been taken, the memory of that child's existence starts to disappear. When Kaleb is snatched, Amaya must journey into the forest to rescue him, before she forgets he exists. It is a story about being brave and doing what you know is right even in the face of danger.
One of my earliest memories of reading a story that thrilled was The Witches by Roald Dahl. The idea that villainous witches hid in plain view was frankly alarming but the young protagonist in the story thwarts their evil plans with humour and ingenuity. It is a fizzling mix of fear and delight and my younger self devoured it with gusto.
Another spooky story of courage and adventure is The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, that draws on Caribbean folk traditions. Young Corinne must learn to be brave and discover how to use ancient magic to save her island home. It's storytelling at its most beautiful and compelling.
Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce enthralled me as a child. I remember the story to be beautifully haunting, where I was never quite sure whether Tom was a ghost or he was simply dreaming it all up. There is an unearthly quality to it that I still think about to this day.
Newly published My Family And Other Ghosts by Lou Kuenzler is a spooky tale that follows 10 year old twins Ivy and Ash as they move to a VERY haunted hotel to try and save it and their ghostly new friends. It's warm, hilarious and thoroughly entertaining, perfect for Halloween.
A New York Times bestseller, The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier is a Gothic ghost story that follows two siblings who work as servants at a spooky manor house. They soon learn about the legend of the Night Gardener, a sinister character who stalks the house at night. There are some very spooky scenes but at its heart it is a tale about the power of storytelling and good winning over evil.
This wouldn't be a list of spooky stories without Coraline by Neil Gaiman. This novella taps into the fear of there being an 'Other World', one that is the opposite of what you know to be good and true, much like The Upside Down in the wildly popular Netflix series Stranger Things. I played upon this concept in The Switching Hour as night brings alive a fearsome threat that vanishes at dawn.
Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh is a deliciously chilling adventure that follows Harper Raine as she hunts down the ghosts that are haunting her younger brother. This story has won high praise and deservedly so, it is a must read for young fans of ghost stories.
Lastly, I want to reflect on A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd, where a monster turns up at a young Connor's window just after midnight. The themes of loss and grief are heart-breaking and visceral but the authors deal with these concepts with such tenderness and compassion. It is ultimately a story of courage and hope that shows young readers that in order to heal you must learn to let go.
Difficult themes often take centre stage in spooky stories. They are tales that teach young readers that the world is not always kind and bad things can and do happen, but that life is also wonderful, hopeful and triumphant.
As Neil Gaiman once quoted 'Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses. You ride the ghost train into the darkness, knowing that eventually the doors will open and you will step out into the daylight once again. It's always reassuring to know that you're still here, still safe.'
Spooky tales allow readers to step off the clearly marked and brightly lit path and into the mysterious forest where we can truly learn to face our fears and discover the courage that lies within each and every one of us.