Creepy, eery, gross, and whimsical—Ruth Ennis chooses spooky books for young readers
by Ruth Ennis
Seasonal books always add a unique quality to the reading experience. There is something incredibly exciting about the build up to a beloved holiday and marking that anticipation with a perfectly themed book. There is no better time of year to do so than with a spooky book in the days leading up to Halloween. Lucky for young readers, there is a wealth of books that are just the right amount of creepy, eery, gross, and whimsical for ages 0 to 18 years. With a mix of titles by Irish and international authors and illustrators, here are six recommended Halloween reads for all age groups.
First up is A Spooktacular Place to Be (The O’Brien Press), the second book in the Dublin Vampire series by Úna Woods. We join our vampire friend on a tour bus to many haunted locations across the country as he looks for the most spooktacular place in Ireland. From Loftus Hall to the Aillwee Caves, Leap Castle to Hazelwood Forest, this unusual journey leads us to several recognisable spots. Each location is home to creatures from Irish mythology and legends (including the Púca, the Banshee, and The Red Lady), as well as some more traditional Halloween figures.
Woods’ illustration style is vibrant and friendly, making even the scariest of skeletons come across as charming. It’s a fun read with both detailed backgrounds young readers can spend time pouring over and interesting references for the grown-ups to enjoy. Suitable for ages 0-2 years.
Next is another picturebook by Irish author/illustrator Oliver Jeffers; There’s a Ghost in this House (Harper Collins). A girl lives in a haunted house, the only problem is that she’s never actually seen a ghost here. She offers us a tour of her home, showing off the extravagant rooms and fascinating décor. But eagle-eyed readers will soon spot that she is not in the room alone and is in fact in the company of some particularly translucent friends.
There’s a Ghost in This House showcases some of the most brilliant design and production work in a picturebook I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Combining the two mediums of photography and illustration, each scene is presented with two perspectives. The first when the girl introduces a seemingly empty room. The second when we turn a semi-transparent page to reveal a ghost (or two!) hiding among the furniture. It’s a simple story, carefully crafted and enriched by the interactive elements of the book. A gorgeous work of art that would make a beautiful gift. Suitable for all ages but particularly 2-4 years.
For more independent readers we turn to the UK Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho’s Fairytales Gone Bad series (Walker Books). Frankenstiltskin, illustrated by Freya Hartas is a creative retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale told in dynamic and often rhyming verse.
Bryony is an animal lover, but not in the way you’d expect. She is a talented taxidermist and has a powerful ability to recreate the essence of the animals she works on. When her father slightly exaggerates her skills of “bringing animals back from the dead,” the king imposes upon her an impossible task: to bring the family pets back to life. When all seems lost, Bryony is approached by a strange creature who promises to help her, for a price.
Equally creepy and delightful, this is a hugely imaginative retelling that will appeal to many fans of classics with a darker twist. The short chapters and verse format lend to accessible reading from beginning to end, comprised of flowing text. The black and white illustrations are stunning and are well-suited to the story. A very enjoyable read, suitable for ages 5-8 years.
More confident readers will enjoy The Monsters of Rookhaven by Irish author Pádraig Kenny (Macmillan Children’s Books). This monster-filled story is told from the perspective of three children: Jem, an orphan who stumbles upon a strange house and who resides there while her brother recovers from an illness; Mirabelle, who is the second-youngest monster in the building and is about to uncover a life-changing secret; and Freddie, a young boy grappling with the trauma of living in post-war England and whose father conducts business with the monsters of Rookhaven.
When a dark force threatens to destroy everything valued by our three protagonists, they join together to defeat a common enemy while learning lots about themselves in the process. While there are certainly enough scary creatures to satisfy your Halloween needs in this book, it is also an incredibly heartwarming and hopeful read with love and friendship at its core. I look forward to reading its sequel The Shadows of Rookhaven. A superbly written book with elegant prose, this book will be enjoyed by readers age 9-11 years.
Going in a slightly less spooky but still appropriately festive direction, young teen readers will love the graphic novel Pumpkin Heads written by Rainbow Rowell and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks. Every Halloween, Deja and Josiah work at the local pumpkin patch, a community hub filled with fun seasonal activities and treats. As seniors, this is the last year the two teenagers will work together on the pumpkin patch. Deja is determined to make it a memorable one, leading an exploration across the patch and enjoying the excellent food. Josiah is happy to spend the evening reminiscing and pining over the girl he has a crush on, who works on the other side of the pumpkin patch.
The story is light and humorous throughout, lifted by endearing characters. The illustrations are simply excellent with dynamic designs and beautiful colour palettes. A sweet book about a small adventure in the most autumnal of settings, this graphic novel is a perfect quick read to get you in the mood for this cosy time of year. Suitable for ages 12-14 years.
Lastly for older teens we have Perfectly Preventable Deaths by Irish author Deirdre Sullivan (Hot Key Books). Twins Madeline and Caitlin and their mother move to a tiny village that is brimming with secrets and a deeply unsettling history of missing girls and dangerous creatures. Strange events begin to unravel as Madeline uncovers her relationship with witchcraft and becomes more distant with her newly-in-love sister.
An enticing read from beginning to end with expert world-building and nuanced characters. Sullivan is a master storyteller that balances humour and wit brilliantly within an increasingly eery narrative that culminates in a genuinely terrifying finale, all written in stunning prose. This book is so difficult to put down, as is its sequel Precious Catastrophe (and if you are looking for an even darker read, her most recent standalone Wise Creatures will be right up your alley). Suitable for 15+ years.
Now that you have suggestions for books for all ages, it’s time to pick up your next read, light an appropriately scented candle (grown-ups only, of course!), indulge in a warm bag of popcorn, curl up in your favourite blanket, and lose yourself in these worlds of ghosts, monsters, witches, and more.