6 Creepy Picture Books for Halloween

  • By Tara Laskowski
  • October 2, 2017

There’s nothing wrong with a little toddler terror every now and then…


My son owns a scary amount of Halloween-themed kids’ books. This is my fault, of course, but I’m not apologizing. Dash loves a good creepy book. When he was younger, he had a fondness for one baby book that featured a haunted house with a headless knight, a spider named Gwen that wanted to eat you, a ghost, and a witch who screamed when you turned the last page, her eyes twinkling green lights.

He is definitely my child.

Below is our family’s list of some of our very favorites to read in our lead-up anticipation to Halloween. These books all get in the spirit of creepy without being too dark, and they all offer something fun for adults as well as kiddos. But, as always, proceed with caution — we don’t want anyone getting night terrors!

  1. Spooky Old Tree by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Favorite spooky line: "Three little bears…without a light, without a stick, without a rope. And all with the shivers!" This one's a classic. I love it because it's a Halloween adventure tale. And unlike most of the Berenstain Bears books, which tend to end on some moral lesson or pound you over the head with how to be good and right, this one starts creepy and ends creepy. We never know why the bears go into this tree in the first place. Do their parents know about this? Why does this tree exist? So many questions — and so much creepy. Alligators, knights, sleeping giant bears, spiders, oh my! The tree is just as spooky in the beginning of the story as it is at the end — in fact, more so. I love this one. No matter how many times we re-read it, it never gets old.
  2. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Favorite spooky line: "She died, of course." Chronicle Books put out this beautiful spooky edition of this classic nursery rhyme in 2009, and though it’s out of print now, you can still get copies from third-party sellers. The illustrations here are amazingly disturbing and fun. The book’s shape is long and thin (good luck fitting it on your bookshelf!) and features said old lady on the cover with large googly eyes. And when you turn the last page, well, those eyes close. She died, of course.
  3. Goldfish Ghost by Lemony Snicket. Favorite spooky line: “But floating over the water were the ghosts of creatures who had lived in the sea.” From the writer of the popular A Series of Unfortunate Events, Goldfish Ghost is a delightful little story, more sweet than scary, but has just enough dark humor to make this fun for adults as well as kids. The story follows a goldfish who is found upside down in its bowl and now, as ghost, needs to find a new home. Along the way, he encounters other ghosts doing their own ghostly things, but will he ever find the right place to call home? I'm especially delighted at the illustrations here, where we can see the little boy who owned goldfish ghost scurrying out to the pet store for another fish…will the same poor fate await his new pet?
  4. Mommy by Maurice Sendak. Favorite moment: Unraveling mummy pop-up I adore this pop-up book. It’s nearly wordless, except for the repeating “Mommy?” on each page as the little monster searches for his parent. Keep this one on a high shelf, though, so eager fingers don’t tear it up. The pop-ups are beautiful and spooky—not only does the mummy unravel as he ascends from the page, but we also see a giant weeping Frankenstein, a vampire with a binky in his mouth, and lots of other surprises. This book manages to be both funny, poignant, and eerie all at once.
  5. Dracula: A BabyLit Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams. Favorite page: 8 Rats (one of them is reading a book called A Field Guide to Vampires). Smoke and mist. Castles on the hill. Tombstones. Coffins (or "boxes," as they're called in the book). Our copy of this board book is well-worn, and for good reason. The entire BabyLit series is worth checking out, but Dracula is one of the best. Just be sure to perfect your howling-wolves impression.
  6. Three Little Puppies by Ruth Dixon. Favorite semi-creepy line: "'Be brave! Be careful!…And be sure to come home when the sun goes down behind Echo Hill and the silver moon comes up in the sky.'" I know, I know. This book, which was first published in 1951, doesn’t really fit here. The storyline follows three puppies looking for a bone to give to their mother for her birthday. But the illustrations make this one absurdly surreal. They are photographs of dogs dressed up like people and doing people things like eating ice cream, taking photos, ironing aprons. It's creepy as hell, to be honest, and my fondness for it comes from my own childhood when my mother and I would laugh at the crazy stories she would make up about the dogs each time we “read” the book. My copy is an old, used one that some other kid named Bonnie Jeanne scribbled all over (adding to the creepiness), but I adore it — and simultaneously am freaked out by it.

Tara Laskowski is the author of two story collections, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders, the latter of which won the 2016 Balcones Fiction Prize. Find her at www.taralaskowski.com.

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