Eight Spooky Stories for Older Children
Published on: 12 October 2022
Kenneth Oppel, author of Ghostlight, has chosen eight spine-tingling stories to share.
Credit: Mark Raynes Roberts
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
A bored girl finds a secret passage to a mirror world that contains her "other mother" and "other father", who are much more fun and attentive than her stodgy real ones. But is it odd that these new parents have button eyes and want to give Coraline her own set, so she can stay with them for ever? For me this novel is an interesting test case for what is too scary for children. When I first read it, I could imagine nothing more horrific than people with button eyes (and the spectre of having such eyes sewn onto me with a needle and thread). Surely this was too horrible for children! Then my wife wisely reminded me that children are often surrounded by things with button eyes. They're called teddy bears. This made me recall that countless children's favourites, from fairy tales to Beatrix Potter, often involve characters being baked and eaten. So, long live Coraline on children’s bookshelves!
Dust, by Arthur Slade
This book tells the story of a drought-plagued farm town, and a strange man who appears, promising rain. And rain it does, but why has the hero's little brother gone missing, along with lots of other kids in the town? An elegantly written, slow burn of a supernatural thriller.
The Monkey's Paw, by W.W. Jacobs
This story has haunted me ever since I first heard it read aloud as a child: a perfectly horrifying short story about the dangers of getting exactly what you wish for. To this day, whenever I hear an unexpected knocking at the door I give a jump -- or at least shiver with trepidation. It's also a great writerly reminder of how the unseen can often be much, much scarier.
Clay, by David Almond
Clay, by David Almond (who also wrote Skellig, one of my all-time favourite books), is a fantastical variation of the classic monster story Frankenstein. Almond's mesmerising way with words make this modern retelling all the more compelling and personal.
Tales of the Unexpected, by Roald Dahl
Before Roald Dahl became mega-famous for James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he wrote deliciously twisty and creepy short stories. Favourites of mine include "Lamb to the Slaughter", "Parson's Pleasure" and "Poison" – not all of them spooky perhaps, but delightfully (and frightfully) revealing of human nature in its darker hues.
Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
This book is a funny but increasingly creepy graphic novel about a girl who is befriended by a ghost. At first an ally and confidante, the ghost reveals itself to be rather more complicated and dishonest than originally presented.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
This is a powerhouse novel of gothic horror and science fiction. It's one of our greatest monster stories, in part because it poses a very interesting question to its reader: who is the real monster – the hideous creature made from corpses, or the scientist who brings this creature to life, and then abandons it like a newborn child, refusing to take responsibility for what he has unleashed on the world? I love this book so much, it inspired me to write two prequels, imagining the teenage adventures of Victor Frankenstein: This Dark Endeavour and Such Wicked Intent.
The Rocking-Horse Winner by D.H. Lawrence
This is an unnerving and heart-breaking story about a clairvoyant child who just wants to make things right for his family, whatever the cost to himself.
Which scary stories would you include?
Ghostlight by Kenneth Oppel is out now.