It’s never too early to start exploring the beauty that can be found in darkness. Some may find death and other macabre topics inappropriate for children, but I feel that being able to talk openly about these subjects is important. Things like death, darkness, and monsters don’t need to be scary, and in fact can be part of fun, interesting, and thoughtful stories for kids. Now I’m not saying to take your four year old to a slasher film, but you don’t need to shield them from everything but rainbows and unicorns either. I’ve compiled a list of children’s books on the darker side that are appropriate for a variety of ages. Check out my list below and let me know if you have any to add!
- Dracula: A BabyLit Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams with art by Alison Oliver
A simple board book with few words, this primer is perfect for teaching your little babybat both how to count and the basic elements of a celebrated literary classic. The book goes from “1 castle” all the way up to “10 garlic flowers,” each phrase accompanied by adorable illustrations with little details that provide extra amusement for the adult reader familiar with Bram Stoker’s story. The book is illustrated entirely in a beautiful purple, red, black, and white color scheme that is guaranteed to stand out on your child’s bookshelf.
- The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey
Help your child learn the alphabet with these macabre rhymes! Written and illustrated by the celebrated gothic artist, Edward Gorey, this alphabet book was first published as part of The Vinegar Works: Three Volumes of Moral Instruction in 1963. In this book, twenty-six children—from Amy to Zillah—meet their untimely ends in ways that vary from the mundane to the absurd. While some might be horrified at the idea of teaching rhymes to children about other children dying, keep in mind that many nursery rhymes of the past involved this subject, from “Rock-a-bye Baby” to “Jack and Jill,” and we all turned out okay.
“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs
B is for Basil assaulted by bears…”
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I’ve written about this book before in my Graveyard Book review, but I just want to reiterate what a great book this is for kids and adults alike. Chronicling the life of Nobody Owens from age 18 months to 15 years, The Graveyard Book, is marketed toward mid-grade readers but can be enjoyed by anybody with the ability to read it. It tells a number of loosely connected stories about Bod’s life growing up in a graveyard and what he learns about life and death in the process. This book, or the next one on my list, would be a perfect introduction for a young reader to the works of Neil Gaiman.
- Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I just couldn’t help including two books by this morbid master of words. Like The Graveyard Book, Coraline is aimed at mid-grade readers, perhaps even a bit younger, though can be enjoyed by anyone. It shames me that I haven’t actually read this creepy children’s classic, yet. But judging from the amazing Tim Burton adaptation and what I already know of Neil Gaiman’s writing skills, I have no problem recommending this book with confidence. Coraline tells the story of a young girl who discovers a doorway to another world, similar to her own but a little bit…different. This world is inhabited by her Other Mother and Father, and they don’t want her to leave. I recently encountered the 10th anniversary edition of this masterpiece, and the chilling illustrations of Dave McKean are guaranteed to give goosebumps to readers of any age.
- The Monster High series by Lisi Harrison
To be fair, I haven’t read any of these books, yet, either. However, the concept of a world populated by the high school-aged children of classic monsters intrigues me. I’m familiar with the Monster High animated series and doll franchise created by Mattel and am quite a fan, though apparently the book series differs significantly from the videos. The first book stars Frankie Stein, a Shelley-esque creation who jumps right from the lab into her first days of high school. In a school populated by both “normies” and other undercover monsters, Frankie must learn how to navigate friendships, romance, and expressing her true identity. Despite being filled with ghost and ghouls, these books are generally fun and wholesome and incorporate important messages for kids and young teens.
What creepy books did you read as a kid? Have you read any of these? Know any morbid little monsters with great taste in books? Share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments; I’m always looking for more gothic children’s books to add to my shelf!