Seven (not too) scary books for 8-12 year olds

Published on: 11 April 2022

If anyone knows horror books, it's Jennifer Killick, author of Crater Lake and now Dread Wood. She shares seven of her favourite scary children's books, perfect for ghoulish young readers looking for their next spooky adventure...

It’s been really tricky to choose a list of favourite children’s horror books, simply because there aren’t a lot of them around. Some of the books in my list aren’t horror in the purest sense, but I have chosen them because they have some elements in them that I associate with horror.

Below Zero by Dan Smith

Dan Smith is an author who knows the horror genre incredibly well, and he brings just the right elements of it into his children’s books. Below Zero is my favourite of his longer novels – it is genuinely chilling (and with a perfect chilly setting that brings the action and scares to life) and brilliantly written. His current Crooked Oak series with Barrington Stoke is also fantastic and the perfect way into horror for young readers. 

The Bigwoof Conspiracy by Dashe Roberts

The Sticky Pines series by Dashe Roberts combines my two favourite genres in fiction – horror and humour. The comedy in these books make them so accessible to younger middle grade readers, and I love how the series grows as we follow her loveable Lucy and Milo through some weird and creepy adventures in Sticky Pines – a town full of secrets.

Christmas Dinner of Souls by Ross Montgomery

Everything Ross writes is brilliant, and he’s so skilled at writing both humour and deeply chilling situations and characters. Christmas Dinner of Souls is such a unique book – a story made up of short stories told by a cast of hideous characters, all vying to be the most terrifying. It is a creepy joy to read, and an excellent book to read aloud.

Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

This is an incredible series for older secondary school readers. The plot is deliciously dark and elaborate, and the settings across Europe beautifully painted. As soon as I started reading, I was absorbed into Love’s world of robots and powerful, horrible magic – it really doesn’t shy away from the gruesome or frightening. It also gives us one of the best grandfather/grandson relationships I’ve ever come across in fiction.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba by Koyoharu Goroge

Manga is a brilliant way into horror for young readers because the format makes dark and disturbing characters and scenes more palatable. There are so many amazing manga series, but Demon Slayer is a great one to start with. Every character (even the monstrous ones) has a back story that endears them to readers, and the action and horror is broken up with humour and some truly touching moments. The main characters are so well written, and it’s impossible not to take them into your heart and root for them with everything you have.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This is still, and will always be, one of my favourite books of all-time, from any genre. It combines such accomplished and beautiful writing with complex characters and a plot that kept me turning the pages like nothing I’ve read before. The concept of the games and the world of Panem are stunningly clever. And it makes you think and feel so much. Definitely not for younger or more sensitive readers but a book that I really believe could turn anyone into a reader, if they open it at the right time in their life.

The Goosebumps Series by R.L. Stine

R.L. Stine has paved the way for all other children’s horror writers, bringing the genre to young readers in a way that nobody else has. The Goosebumps series is just the right amount of scary, with some humour thrown in, and featuring children and settings that readers will find relatable. There’s also the added bonus that young fans of his stories have not only an extensive series of Goosebumps books to enjoy, but dozens of awesome stories to move on to when they’ve outgrown those. Growing up, I loved R.L. Stine’s books in the Point Horror series – I think they turned lots of teens into readers.

What to read after Goosebumps

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