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For those who enjoy a spooky tale, we have scary stories galore. From cute little ghosts for younger readers to truly terrifying reads for teenagers, you can find a wide selection of books in this section.
The grounds of a country house in the summer months of 1914 provide the setting for Emma Carroll’s spooky novella and she uses it to explore themes of growing understanding and the awful, looming threat of war. Brought together after an accident puts him temporarily into a wheelchair requiring someone to push it, Leo and Fran form an upstairs-downstairs friendship. Fran is unsettled by a series of strange, seemingly supernatural coincidences that seem to be warnings of things to come, while Leo is obsessed by events in Europe and what they may lead to. Their different worries merge in a deliciously spooky scene where the two young people encounter the ghosts of an Anglo-Saxon army, something they interpret as a warning of what is to come; sure enough, the story concludes with the announcement of World War I. Despite a sense of foreboding, we know that their friendship will endure and feel certain that, whatever happens, the future will hold good things for both. Emma Carroll is one of our foremost authors of historical fiction for children and creates a tangible sense of the tension of those summer months as well as an appealing, believable set of characters. Published by Barrington Stoke, the book is accessible to all readers, including those with dyslexia, and highly recommended.
Rich in historic atmosphere and detail, and smouldering with female desire to be heard in a patriarchal society, Catherine Barter’s We Played with Fire is a hauntingly riveting read. The fact it was inspired by the true story of the Fox Sisters who made a fortune from communicating with spirits in nineteenth-century America makes it all the more gripping, and a fine example of how to transform extraordinary real-life events into enthralling fiction. Back home in Rochester Maggie had enjoyed listening to progressive women she “thought she could learn from” - strong role models who spoke-up at political meetings held in the kitchen. But these fires of inspiration are dampened when Maggie is incriminated in a terrible event that takes place near the schoolhouse she claims is haunted. As a result of the scandal, her family move to remote Hydesville where, feeling fed-up and fuming, Maggie and her younger sister Kate decide to spice things up by playing supernatural tricks on their parents. Matters take a menacing turn when their old farmhouse makes spooky sounds independent of the sisters’ tomfoolery, and they become certain a spirit is communicating with them. When this attracts the attention of their neighbours and a local journalist, Maggie and Kate see the power and potential of spiritualism and set-off on an astonishing life journey that reels with rebellion, show-woman-ship and gothic charisma.
This inventive page-turner opens with a superb sense of peril as sixteen-year-old Alfie moves from Bristol to spend summer in a small village in the north of England. There’s menace from the moment he chances upon a stone in a churchyard and local girl Mia explains the superstitions around it - if a person walks around the stone three times uttering the words “I don‘t believe in witches” Meg Shelton will come for you! Keen to show he doesn’t believe such nonsense, Alfie does exactly that - with immediate menacing effects, and it’s not long before he realises that he’s become a conduit for Meg, a woman murdered for being a witch way back in 1705. Defying convention and expectation, not only is this a gripping page-turner, but it’s brilliantly funny too, with comedy springing forth the moment Meg springs into Alfie’s life (and shower…). What’s more, it’s also edge-of-your-seat pacey as Alfie and Mia - with the help of Mia’s witch-expert aunt - race against time to help Meg make peace with her past, with the stakes high, and their feelings running pretty high too.
If ever there was a picture book to be enjoyed in the long winter nights, when there’s a crackle of frost in the air, it’s this one. Snow Ghost comes shimmering out of the air, she soars over hills and woods, darkening as evening draws in, searching for somewhere to settle. Nowhere seems to offer a welcome and she’s lonely and getting tired when on top of a hill she spots a small farm with two happy children in the garden. They all play together in the snow until night falls completely and as the children go in, Snow Ghost settles on the roof, home at last. Snow Ghost is a magical creation in Diana Mayo’s illustrations, floating across the pages almost not there, yet a tangible presence, and we look down with her on the valleys, fields and quiet little town below. The sense of stillness – then joy and hope – is perfectly captured in Tony Mitton’s text which is as graceful and airy as Snow Ghost herself. A perfect story for this time of year, a celebration of hope and belonging. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection!
October 2020 Debut of the Month | A gobble-it-up fiery and intense yet thoughtful debut novel about family, betrayal, and witchcraft. Opening the pathway to a fabulous historical fantasy series this calls out as a must-read for young adults. Set during the civil war in 17th century England, 15 year old Evey has to flee with her little sister Dill when her mother is murdered. As with all good young adult novels, it is perfectly easy to slide into and really enjoy as an adult too, particularly with the wonderful cover drawing you in. Touching history, it flies into fantasy, as author Finbar Hawkins examines the meaning of witch. Evey is a complex character and as she tells her own story she has the ability of self-reflection, even if she doesn’t always like what she sees. Witch is a read that fair on crackles with energy, it also encourages thoughts to both consider and soar and deservedly sits as one of our LoveReading debuts of the month.
October 2020 Debut of the Month | Some girls like ballet; some like football; Aveline Jones likes ghosts. And anyone who enjoys a creepy, well-plotted, atmospheric ghost story will love this book. The setting is a little West Country fishing port, where Aveline is staying with her aunt while her mother is away. Hallowe’en is approaching and Aveline is unsettled by the village’s custom of leaving life-size manikins of children outside the houses – it’s seriously spooky. A visit to the local second-hand bookshop begins an adventure that will reveal the reason for the dolls, and one that sees Aveline herself caught up in an old tragedy that still haunts the villagers. It’s deliciously creepy reading, just the thing to add a frisson of fear as the nights draw out and highly recommended!
September 2020 Book of the Month | Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | If you like your adventures good and creepy, you’re going to love The Invasion of the Crooked Oak. Crooked Oak is a peaceful kind of place, but it seems something is up with the town’s grown-ups – they’ve stopped eating, are avoiding the light, and generally behaving really strangely. When teenagers Pete, Krish and Nancy try to work out what’s going on, they find the trail leads to the fracking site on the town’s edge. The tension ratchets up nicely as the three realise they’ve got one chance to save their parents and themselves. The environmental theme feels very topical and author Dan Smith knows just how to keep his readers on the edge of their seats. Published by dyslexia specialists Barrington Stoke, this is accessible to readers of all abilities and completely gripping.
This captivating sequel sees contemporary Native American Agnes discover deep connections to her ancestress Mary, whose story enchanted readers in Witch Child. Deftly interweaving narratives of the past and present, and laced with atmosphere, authenticity and insights into Native American culture, this is an exhilarating, emotion-driven feast for fans of historical fiction. Agnes is proud of her Native American heritage, though her fellow anthropology students don’t call her by her tribal name, Karonhisake - Searching Sky. After reading the historic diaries of Mary Newbury and being struck by a vision type experience, Agnes feels compelled to contact the researcher who found Mary’s diaries. She has a hunch that Mary might be the young woman she’s heard stories about on her home reservation. As things turn out, her formidable Aunt M, a medicine woman, is already miles ahead of her in knowing this. Bristling with intrigue and ethical commentary on the acquisition and appropriation of Native American objects (“What right they got to any of that stuff? Bunch of grave robbers!”), this tells the remarkable tales of two remarkable young women connected across time.
This comic picture book cleverly demonstrates the dangers of being swayed by popular opinion. New boy Peter is quickly branded the baddest boy in school and it does indeed seem that he’s given to doing naughty things. So when the school’s pet rat goes missing from his cage, everyone assumes Peter is responsible. Only one person knows the truth, and that Peter’s bad behaviour is not what it seems either. The book explores the dynamics of any classroom while also showing us that strange or different doesn’t equal bad and that categorising people on assumptions is never a good idea. Peter is a very charming little character, with his cape, fangs and lacy collar, and the story is beautifully told by its mystery narrator. Original, memorable, and lots of fun.
There are thrills galore in this stylish lift-the-flap book. Each page features a different creature – fish, bat, spider snake – and each looks pretty innocuous until you pull open the elongated flap then, good heavens, what horrors are revealed! The fish is no guppy, but a piranha with a gaping mouthful of sharp teeth (and a smaller fish about to be eaten)! Pull up the flap for the octopus and discover what’s inside – it’s not a pretty sight! Each flap reveals something more gruesome and revolting than before until the final image of a pumpkin, which turns out to be concealing some very creepy surprises. Young children will revel in these opportunities to be shocked and disgusted, and will shriek with glee at each new ghastliness revealed. The illustrations and bold colours are very striking and add just the right amount of humour to the horror. Nasty but nice!
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month September 2020 | Everyone is welcome at Spooky School! Everyone who likes to be scared a bit! Open the pages of this fun board book and join the pupils as they learn how to fly like a witch on a broomstick and to howl like a werewolf. Or join in a dance for skeletons. And, don’t forget, spookiness can be caring too. There’s loads of fun on the Halloween theme. But just watch out for spiders….
Opening the pages of this eerie anthology is akin to creeping through creaky doors to explore a haunted house. To wander corridors and halls, rooms and chambers that have been darkly decorated by a host of hallowed writers. Here readers will encounter the skulking terrors of Joseph Delaney’s timeless, gripping The Castle Ghosts. The clever, contemporary creepiness of Robin Jarvis’s The Beach Hut. Then there’s Philip Reeves’s long-lingering, translucently lyrical The Ghost Wood. There are eleven tales in all, each written by a truly top-class writer, among them Matt Haig, Derek Landy, Susan Cooper, Mal Peet, and Jamila Gavin. Some tingle with menace. Others are outright scary. Some are modern, others infused with the terrors of traditional Gothic tales. And all of them are exquisitely executed. Perfect for reading aloud as the nights draw in, the stories here also make excellent introductions to a fine set of writers.
This emotive, richly-detailed novel illuminates a dark period of history with grace and lyricism through a perfectly-paced plot. England, 1659 – an era of terror and persecution for women who might be accused of witchcraft. One such woman is Mary’s grandmother, the wise woman who raised her, someone the community once turned to in times of birth, sickness and death. But those times have passed. When her grandmother is hanged for witchcraft after a ludicrous trial, Mary fears for her own life, but she’s swiftly and quietly brought to safety by a woman she doesn’t know, with a passage to America arranged for her. In the New World Mary will adopt a new identity and make a new life among Puritans. Mary’s life in Salem is described in evocative detail - the heat that “does not fade with the setting sun”, the fireflies, the “dour” people whose “faces show a history of work and hardship.” But the Puritans find Salem too soft for them, and so they press further into the wilderness, to the Beulah (‘Bride of God’) settlement. Life is strict, and worsens for Mary when old superstitions re-emerge after she uses her healing wisdom. It’s while searching for herbs in the woods that she befriends Jaybird, a Native American boy, and meets his shaman grandfather. The novel tells of their history and spiritual beliefs with an engaging deftness of touch, but since the Puritans regard Native Americans as “the Devil’s instruments”, as people who live “in sin, and in degradation”, Mary’s association with Jaybird adds to their suspicion of her. Presented as pages from Mary’s journal found centuries later, this is an engaging joy from start to cliff-hanger finish. As Witch Child ends, so Sorceress begins...
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