Adults, Don't Be Frightened—Kids Love Scary Books!

Image of full moon with bats flying in the distance with text "Kids Love Scary Books!"

Adults, Don't Be Frightened—Kids Love Scary Books!

September 28, 2021


Readers of all ages know the appeal of scary stories, with plots that twist and turn, spine-tingling terrors and surprise endings. But parents, teachers, and librarians alike wonder if such fare is appropriate for children.

Don’t fear the popularity of scary books with young readers. Interest in age-appropriate frights can be an exciting milestone on the way to kids developing as life-long readers and exploring the boundaries of their independence.  

Scary stories aid child development

Of course, what is scary differs for every child — no one wants to encourage nightmares or trigger fears and anxiety. But readers with a penchant for just-the-right-amount of scary are developing important skills according to some experts.

The flip side of feeling scared is feeling brave. Imagining the spooky sound or navigating the creepy house lets readers activate their bravery and problem-solving muscles. By following the protagonist through his or her difficulties, they can also consider how they might respond to a similar situation. In this way, a child might begin to develop a more sophisticated response to the problems in his or her own life.

Stories debunk myths

Critical thinking skills connect to creepy tales? You bet! Are all old houses haunted? Do all stepmothers hate children? Are clowns terrifying creatures out to steal children?

Understanding that entertaining stories aren’t always connected to facts is an important lesson, especially for our digital natives who access a co-mingled online world of fake and facts from early ages. Urban legends aren’t just for sleepovers anymore and kids need practice in figuring out fact from fiction.

Scary stores keep children reading

“Choice is widely acknowledged as a method for enhancing motivation” reports this summary of reading research. For adult readers, reading is all about choice. We get to choose not only what we read but when we read and how long. We’ve learned that reading is interesting and pleasurable.

Giving kids appropriate reading choices helps build a foundation for a lifetime of reading. For reluctant readers especially, scary stories open the door into these possibilities and can help transform reading from boring homework to an exciting adventure.

How to find appropriately scary stories

The big question is not whether kids should read scary books, but how to find ones that are appropriately scary. No one is suggesting a Stephen King novel as a bedtime story!

Here are some tips:

  • Scary is in the eye of the beholder. Think about the needs of your particular reader. What is right for one child might not be right for another. When in doubt, ask your reader. Kids are actually pretty good at self-censoring stuff they don’t like or aren’t ready to read.
  • Ask your school or public librarian for help. They are experts at matching the right book with the right reader.
  • Don’t judge a book by its too-scary cover. Books intended to meet the scary needs of younger readers, such as those in the Scary Graphics or Michael Dahl Presents: Scary Stories series, often have a scarier cover than actual content to help attract readers. Check out the book’s description or read the first chapter to feel more comfortable.
  • Look for read-a-likes. Once kids find a scary author that they like such as R.L. Stine or Michael Dahl, search online for recommendations by people who like those authors.
  • Check out lists from well-respected sources like this one from Capstone or these recommendations from Common Sense Media.

Check out our Scary Books infographic for some more fun facts on how scary books are good for kids!