To celebrate Halloween, we asked eight authors to share a childhood book that left them totally spooked. From not-so-scary picture books to seriously chilling reads, these are the haunting stories that made a lasting impression on them when they were young.
“Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders is the reason why dolls and dollhouses unsettle me. Released in 1983, there is still an eerie feel to this middle grade mystery today.
While exploring her great-grandparents’ attic, 12-year-old Amy discovers an antique dollhouse that is an exact replica of the real house, complete with dolls that look like her family. At night, the dolls appear to move of their own accord, reenacting a grisly murder that once took place there…
The Dollhouse Murders took a swing at my childhood before Stephen King’s It came and utterly destroyed it.”
Jonathan Skariton is the author of Séance Infernale, a dark debut thriller centered on a lost and forgotten film, a mystery in the depths of Edinburgh, and a dangerous secret.
“It wasn’t one story that scared me as a child but a whole lot of them. When I was about eight, I read a book called The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts in Fact and Fiction. The stories in it gave me nightmares for weeks — probably because they were supposed to be true. I can still picture the cover: a moaning ghostly figure in chains with these horrible white eyes. In fact, I think it would still give me nightmares if I read it now!”
C.J. Tudor is the author of The Chalk Man (on sale 1/9/18), a chillingly suspenseful novel about a childhood game that turns into a hunt for a murderer that’ll have readers on the edge of their seats.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving scared the living daylights out of me as a kid. The idea of a headless horseman running around town freaked me out. I grew up on a farm with horses so every season when Halloween came around I would fear coming across that headless horseman.”
Chris Pegula is the author of From Dude to Dad: The Diaper Dude Guide to Pregnancy and Diaper Dude: The Ultimate Dad’s Guide to Surviving the First Two Years, two fun and approachable parenting books full of essential information for modern-day fathers.
“The first book that scared me was The Secret of the Old Clock, a Nancy Drew mystery. I was eight years old and I didn’t do scary. I always checked under the bed before going to sleep. But I gave Nancy a chance, holding my breath, reading by flashlight, muscles tense as I wondered what was around the next corner. And I loved it. Nancy Drew made scary safe. I knew she would prevail because she had all those other mysteries to solve. That certainty of outcome meant I could relax and enjoy the thrill of figuring out not just whodunit, but how and why, before the story’s climax.”
“When I was a kid, my dad let me read in church. I was in mass when I first encountered Ray Bradbury’s ‘Zero Hour,’ a story in Bruce Coville’s Book of Aliens. I saved scary books for Sundays because I felt safer surrounded by people. When I got to the story’s end, which is about children playing a seemingly innocuous game that suddenly lets monstrous aliens into our world, I gasped loudly during the priest’s homily. He made a joke about me. Everyone laughed. Meanwhile, I wanted to duck under the pew, to hide from the story’s creatures.”
Andy Boyle is the author of Adulthood for Beginners: All the Life Secrets Nobody Bothered to Tell You, a laugh-out-loud and informative guide to becoming a grown-up in today’s world.
“This is the most brilliant, chilling work of suspense ever written … if you’re four. The Monster at the End of This Book cranks the tension to unbearable on the title page and never lets up. Before long, the protagonist — lovable, furry old Grover — is literally begging for salvation. And yet, merely by continuing to turn pages, the reader actually becomes the instrument of Grover’s unending torture. The final twist left me breathless — all six thousand times I made my parents read it to me.”
Brad Parks is the author of Say Nothing (on sale 12/5/17), a gut-wrenching, twists-filled thriller about a couple who live out every parent’s worst nightmare, and Closer Than You Know (on sale 3/6/18).
“When I was a kid, I was a HUGE fan of Alvin Schwartz’s scary story compilations like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories. One story I still remember from In a Dark, Dark Room is the tale of Jenny, who always wore a green ribbon around her neck and wouldn’t tell her husband why until the day she died — then we learn that the ribbon was holding her head onto her body! I loved that tale because it creeped me out so much!”
Julie C. Dao is the author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, a brand-new YA retelling of the Evil Queen legend, set in a fantastical East Asian-inspired world.
“Gosh, I guess I have a strong heart. Books never spooked me as a child, but my kids make up for that! It took years before we could read Dr. Seuss’s story about the pale green pants with nobody inside them. I always loved those pants and used to read ‘What Was I Scared Of?’ from The Sneetches and Other Stories, over and over. The dark skies and gloomy mood were all part of the fascination.”
Heather Shumaker is the author of It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids and It’s OK to Go Up the Slide: Renegade Rules for Raising Confident and Creative Kids, two books that reframe the “rules” around parenting.
Books Mentioned in This Article: