Among the Dolls is a short read (under 100 pages), but definitely a creepy story. Vicky is quite bummed when she receives a dollhouse instead of a ten-speed bike. Vicky has a vivid imagination, and finds that playing with the dollhouse is a welcome escape from her parents' arguments. When she finds herself actually trapped in the dollhouse, she must find a way to escape before she faces further danger.
It's no accident that two of my titles are about dolls; I find doll stories (and talking toy stories) to be creepy! For the most part, Doll Bones (a 2014 Newbery Honor recipient) is not scare-your-socks-off scary, but it definitely has a spooky undertone. Even though Zach, Alice, and Poppy are in middle school, they still enjoy making up stories and adventures about pirates, mermaids, and a doll they've named The Great Queen. Zach's dad is pressuring him to give up the make-believe, so he quits their regular story sessions. Spurred on by Poppy's consistent dream about a girl ghost that will not be restful until the doll (made from bone china) is buried, the three friends set off to bury The Great Queen. Mishap after mishap mars their journey, with events becoming more sinister as the friends continue on. If you're familiar with The Spiderwick Chronicles (or Holly Black's other stories), you know that Black's tales are quirky, vivid, and full of action and surprises.
R.L. Stine's horror novels include slapstick and humor, so It's the First Day of School-Forever! is no exception. Artie has a tremendously epic first day of school--epically awful, that is! Starting with his brother squirting syrup in his hair, getting splashed by a poodle (which makes it look like he wet his pants), and getting on the wrong side of a bully makes for an extremely tough day; much to his horror, he finds that the events of this horrific day are repeated every day. Is there anyway to break this Groundhog Day cycle? Although this taps more into psychological fear (which is plenty freaky!), there are some monsters and classic horror hijinks at the end to make Goosebumps fans happy.
Parents of some of our young patrons might remember reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (or Alvin Schwartz's sequels). Not only are these short stories enjoyed by both avid and reluctant readers, but they are actually drawn from American folklore and ghost stories. Plans for a movie version of the stories are finally moving forward, so expect renewed interest in these titles when that happens.
If Alvin Schwartz's short stories are "been there, done that" for your young reader, Terrifying Tales and Thriller from the super fun Guys Read series should definitely be on your list. Top-notch authors such as Walter Dean Myers, Bruce Hale, Rita Williams-Garcia, and more contributed original stories perfect for Halloween reading.
Need reads that are even scarier? Try these YA titles:
Anna Dressed in Blood is my litmus test for scary and violent stories (I tried to read Darren Shan's Zom-B and failed; I can do ghosts, but zombies are not my thing); Kendare Blake's tale of a boy who gets caught up with a vengeful ghost is definitely for mature readers; Blake creates a gripping story line that's filled with careful characterization and world-building.
The Dead of Winter and Forbidden are my kind of horror--historical horror! Both novels feature Victorian era orphaned children who realize that weird and sinister things are happening in their new homes: The Dead of Winter is set in Victorian England, while Forbidden takes place along the Scottish coast.
Some readers enjoy cozy winter reads; Trapped is the antithesis of a cozy winter read. Seven high school students are trapped in their high school during a freak blizzard--and not all survive. Make sure you have plenty of time carved out when you start Trapped, because you'll hate to put it down.
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library