7 spooktacular Halloween reads

Published on: 30 October 2023 Author: Sam Pope

To celebrate Spooky Season, school librarian and writer Sam Pope shares her recommended reads to add chills and thrills to your reading pile.

Sam Pope and the front covers of All The Better To See You, Coraline, Marianne Dreams, The Haunting of Aveline Jones, Scareground, Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase, and Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror

1. All the Better to See You 1 (Tales at Midnight) by Gina Blaxhill

To be honest, sometimes there's nothing scarier than a traditional fairytale – told in the pre-sanitised versions compiled by the Grimm Brothers. They are also ripe for retelling, as is the case with Gina Blaxhill's version of Little Red Riding Hood.

In this version, Red knows all about a mysterious beast who is a threat to unsuspecting travellers, but she is strangely unafraid, venturing out when most people lock their doors. When the alleged wolf attacks become more frequent, people in her town start looking for someone to blame. Blaxhill really has created a fantastic twist to this well-known fairytale and her descriptions of how humans behave towards outsiders are as unsettling as any imaginary beast.

2. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

An illustration from the front cover of Coraline

Pic: Chris Riddell

Coraline is bored. She and her parents have moved into a new apartment and there's nothing to do. Her parents work all day in front of their computers, barely stopping to buy or cook food or even acknowledge she's there.

Then, one day, she discovers a door that leads into a parallel world – one which looks exactly like her own, except that her 'other' parents have buttons for eyes and start to become unhealthily possessive over her. Gaiman sustains a sense of uncanny unease, which grows into horrifying claustrophobic dread as the novel progresses. I still get the shivers reading this book as he takes a normal, domestic setting and turns it into something utterly appalling.

3. The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes

Aveline Jones is sent to spend half-term with her aunt – a prospect she is dreading. However, while browsing in the local second-hand-bookshop, she discovers a book that once belonged to Primrose Penberthy. Local legend has it that Primrose disappeared without a trace and Aveline, a huge fan of mysteries and ghost stories, decides to investigate... which leads her down a dangerous path filled with supernatural peril.

I loved the spookiness of this book – and the wild Cornish seaside setting – and must admit I had hardly any nails left by the end! Phil Hickes creates a perfect amount of fear for upper primary readers in this and the other two books in the trilogy.

4. Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr

An illustration from the front cover of Marianne Dreams - a girl looking worried while standing in a corn field

Pic: Oliver Hurst

Confined to her bed with a prolonged illness, Marianne tries to find ways to distract herself. She finds a pencil that belonged to her great-grandmother and draws a house – nothing special or particularly skilful. However, that night she visits the house she has drawn in her dreams and meets a boy, who seems to be both familiar and a stranger. The only problem is that she cannot get inside.

The next day, she adds more details to her picture to solve the problem and a friendship, of sorts, blossoms. Marianne continues exercising control in her bedridden life on paper but, before she knows it, the situation has got out of hand. Her talent is soon her tormentor, leading to a frightening climax that truly had me terrified.

5. Scareground by Angela Kecojevic

Scareground is a delicious thriller. Flame-haired and feisty Nancy Crumpet has a loving and lovely life with her adoptive parents in their delicious-smelling home above their bakery. Yet she has so many questions: why did her birth parents disappear? What is the strange birthmark on her wrist – and why must she keep it hidden? Why can she talk to the sky?

When Skelter Tombola's terrifying Scareground returns to Greenwich 12 years after its last appearance (and a fatal tragedy), Nancy believes answers lie at the fair, especially since fearful Ma and Pa Crumpet forbid her to go. She and best friend Arthur sneak off to investigate... and find themselves more terrified than they could have possibly imagined.

Angela Kecojevic's magical world contrasts Nancy's warm, loving, sugar-coated home life with the slug-ridden, creepy coldness of the fair, and teases the reader with illusions and scares galore.

6. The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co, Book 1) by Jonathan Stroud

An illustration from the front cover of Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase - a young man in a coat holding a gleaming sword as the moon shines behind him, with a castle in the distance

Set in an undisclosed time, as an epidemic of ghosts is plaguing UK citizens, the only people who can see the enemy – and, therefore, destroy them – are children. Lucy Carlyle is one of the most gifted agents and we meet her as she joins talented Anthony Lockwood's tiny London agency.

However, things go spectacularly wrong on one of their jobs and, to try to put matters right, Lucy and Lockwood must spend the night in one of England's most haunted houses, with a slim chance of getting out alive. I've read some pretty scary adult books, but this series genuinely frightens me in places. Stroud also manages to achieve the very difficult task of combining humour and terror – and the books are all the richer for it.

7. Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestly

Imagine visiting your uncle and being delighted and disturbed by a new, frightening tale each time. Now, imagine realising that what you thought were made-up stories were actually true memories of Uncle Montague's very macabre previous life.

I always get properly spooked when I read Chris Priestly's books and this is an excellent introduction to his ability to utterly terrify. Ghost stories often are their most powerful when written as short stories and Priestly uses this structure brilliantly here – combining many short stories into an overarching longer tale. Best read with the light on, though!

Sam Pope is a writer, editor, children's librarian and teacher based in Oxford. She writes fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children. Her supernatural, psychological thriller, The Haunting of Lindy Pennyworth, was published in October 2021 by UCLan and was named as one of Blackwell's YA horror books of 2021. She has also had ghost stories published and performed by Otranto House, TheatreCloud and the Charles Dickens Museum.

Topics: Horror, Features

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