Many fans have loved horror most of their lives. Before we were allowed to watch the movies, many of us got into the genre through book series like Goosebumps or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. But if you were like me, those weren’t enough. You wanted to experience everything. Whatever the library had that was horror related, you wanted it.
Unfortunately, many of the books that shaped my love of horror as a child aren’t very well remembered. In fact, I had to do quite a bit of digging just to find them for the purposes of this list. Some even had me question whether or not they ever existed. Luckily, they did. And even if they never skyrocketed to popularity, these were great books with often frightening imagery—some of which sticks with me to this day.
I’m sure you’ve had books you came across as a kid that helped fuel your thirst for horror. A couple of these books are so forgotten that I’m beginning to wonder if I’m the only one that’s ever read them. If you stumbled across any of these when you were younger, or if they jog your memory for something else, tell me in the comments. I’m dying to know.
Ghosts, Vampires & Werewolves: Eerie Tales from Transylvania
As a kid obsessed with Dracula, I also became fascinated with its sense of place. In fact, I still am—probably to an unhealthy degree. There’s something I love about the folkloric history of Transylvania. This book delivered on everything I wanted. These were spooky stories that all stemmed from the same region, but also featured some extreme gore and imagery that you would not expect from a children’s book.
Vampires: A Collection of Original Stories
I had to search high and low for this one. This is the book that had me questioning if it ever actually existed. It’s tough to search for a book about vampires that’s titled Vampires, especially if it’s not popular. And this one isn’t. But I took it out of the library frequently as a kid. It was usually either this or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. It was my first introduction to how wide and imaginative the vampire metaphor could actually be.
Night Terrors: Stories of Shadow and Substance
Here’s a weird one: As a kid, I thought this was the basis for the Tobe Hooper film Night Terrors. I don’t even know how I knew about that movie, but I did. It’s not, though. It’s a short story collection edited by I Know What You Did Last Summer author Lois Duncan, one of the perennial titans of YA horror. “The Bogey Man” stuck out to me. I was obsessed with the idea of the boogeyman when I was a child and I distinctly remember taking this out of the library just for that story. But as a kid obsessed with Puppet Master and Chucky, a story about a killer doll really won me over as well.
In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
This book—as well as its sequel, Demon in My View—was an inspiration to me. I don’t remember how I learned about it, but I knew it was written by a thirteen-year-old girl. And I read it when I myself was thirteen and just beginning to write. The fact that it was a vampire novel only fueled my interest. Looking back, it’s still certainly exceptional writing for someone that age. But instead of being intimidated by how good she was, the book only pushed me to be a better writer, even as a kid. So I have to thank her for that.
Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep
When I was young, I loved the poems of Jack Perlutsky. Just about everything he did, I ate it up, particularly themed collections like The Dragons are Singing Tonight. But when the school librarian brought it to my attention that he’d done a book solely on monsters and things that go bump in the night, I was elated. I still have vivid memories of this book, even though I haven’t read it in over twenty years. In particular, “The Ghoul” is a poem that always stood out as evoking an incredible sense of dread.
The Halloween Novels by Kelly O’Rourke
I shouldn’t include books that are virtually impossible for people to go back and read, but I’m going to anyway. Sorry. As a kid obsessed with horror fiction and a Halloween fan, these were so important. I did a book report on The Old Myers Place in fourth grade—much to my teacher’s disappointment. They required little to no knowledge of the films, though I knew the series by heart at that point anyway. Though they each fell into the trap of teen YA fiction, they were standalone Michael Myers stories that were occasionally creepy and shockingly gory at times.
The Bailey School Kids
I read these books almost as rapidly as I read Goosebumps, even though most of them left me disappointed, because I always started out absolutely sure that this time the teacher/coach/delivery man would actually turn out to be a monster. I think at one point they did have a teacher turn out to be a vampire, but for the most part it was a bait-and-switch just like Scooby Doo. I still loved it anyway. We always thought that people at our school might secretly be witches or mummies, so it played into the childhood need to immediately judge others based on first impressions… wait, that can’t be right. These books had to have had a better message than that. Regardless, they were fun and funny and definitely easy to get into for youngsters cautiously dipping their toes into the genre.