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What are the Scariest books for Children? [Oct. 17th, 2013|09:32 pm]
It's getting close to Hallowe'en and I've been thinking about some of the books that used to give me the shivers as a kid. I read my way through the children's section of our neighbourhood library and found that it wasn't always the newest books that delivered the most bang, for your borrow. Older books delivered the scares as well.

The thing about a scary children's book is the author can't take the easy route and throw around buckets of gore, the frights are all in the atmosphere. And those are the kinds of frights you NEVER EVER forget, even 30 years later!

Behind the cut, my seven scariest childhood books. (And I want to know which books scared you because I might want to read them!)

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The Red Room Riddle by Scott Corbett. Two boys accept a dare to explore a "haunted" house on a rainy Hallowe'en night. Their host is a strange, snarky boy with a bulldog. There's a rose bower you don't want to walk through, a tapestry depicting the "Slaughter of the Innocents" and a strange woman who keeps walking from room to room extinguishing candles.
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Is there Life on a Plastic Planet? by Mildred Ames. Hollis is bullied at school and pressured by her mother to lose weight. She is miserable. The owner of a new doll shop in her neighbourhood offers a solution: send a life-size doll to school instead. But then the Doll develops a will of its own and wants to keep Hollis's life. And she's not the only Doll around. Dolls are creepy and these are exceptionally creepy dolls.
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Moon Eyes by Josephine Poole. I haven't read this one in ages and might have to track down a copy to see if it is as effective as I remember. It was the cover that attracted/terrified me at the library and it lived up to promise. A strange woman named Rhoda inserts herself into a mother-less family and has designs on the youngest child. His older sister tries to protect him. A big black dog lurks about and Rhoda's catch-phrase is "First we'll wait....then we'll whistle....then we'll dance together."
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The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs. The Edward Gorey illustrations certainly help! Orphaned Louis goes to live with his magician Uncle in a house with a secret - and a hidden clock that never stops ticking. Magic, opened tombs, evil neighbours, midnight knocks at the door...This book STILL scares me more than anything Stephen King has ever written and it's 1/10th the length.
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The Whispering Knights by Penelope Lively. (Photo shows the actual "Knight" stone circle.) Three children make their own version of the "eye of newt, toe of frog" potion and accidentally call up Morgan Le Fay. And this is not the campy version: this is a cold-eyed, silent sorceress who can creep into your bedroom as a shadow.
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The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. I first read this when I was 8 years old. Our teacher read us the first book in the series "Over Sea, Under Stone." This was the first book I remember reading where a seemingly "safe" person, a trustworthy grown-up, turned out to be someone completely different. The book is rich in images - a rook's feather in the snow, conjuring up a world of fear.
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Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr. A girl recuperating from a serious illness draws a picture of a house. That night she dreams of the house. And she keeps dreaming of it and begins to regret parts of her picture. Standing stones with eyes, thinking in unison, broadcasting their thoughts on the radio. "Not the light, Not the light. Get them. Get them." That one room in the house that just isn't right. Scary perfection.
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Now, which books terrified you?

[User Picture]From: xparrot
2013-10-18 09:14 am (UTC)
Oooh! I'm not a big horror fan but John Bellairs is one of my favorite kids' authors, I was hoping he'd make your list :D (though while I enjoy The House with a Clock in its Walls, the Johnny Dixon mysteries are my favorites). I remember when I was in maybe 5th grade, I got a Bellairs book (one of the Anthony Monday series, I think) out of the library that scared me SO MUCH that I hid the book under my bed until I had to return it, I couldn't even look at the cover! (I don't remember what scared me about it, now...something with a man/haunt with cobwebs covering his face?)

One of the best things about Bellairs is his wonderfully atmospheric, Gothic '50s New England. The funny thing is that growing up in small town New England myself, I didn't realize that part of it - the old-time '50s feel fascinated me, but New England was just where you lived; it wasn't until I reread them as an adult that I realized how much a sense of the place his books were imbued with.
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[User Picture]From: tasabian
2013-10-19 12:36 am (UTC)
Ooh, the Johnny Dixon mysteries are great! I was grateful that Bellairs was quite prolific because there's was nothing worse at the library, then having read ALL the books there were by a fave author.

One of the best things about Bellairs is his wonderfully atmospheric, Gothic '50s New England.
I think that his books were the first I'd ever read set in New England so between his descriptions & Gorey's pictures, I had a very specific idea what it must be like there. My favourite scene in "Clock" is the one pictured, when they drive & drive with the driverless car following them & are finally safe when they cross running water. So suspenseful!
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[User Picture]From: iibnf
2013-10-18 10:14 am (UTC)
No book has ever terrified me. Even as a tiny child, I never believed or was concerned by the supernatural (not even as a four year old would I believe in ghosts or god or Santa clause). But have you ever read Plague Dogs? By the same guy who wrote Watership Down. I wouldn't say terrifying, but horrifying because it's based on what really happens to animals in medical practice. I think reading that as a child was utterly traumatising, and would have, if not created, but certainly cemented my beliefs about animal torture/experimentation. Still a book that leaves me feeling a little sick to remember. Brilliant stuff.
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[User Picture]From: tasabian
2013-10-19 12:39 am (UTC)
Plague Dogs was one of the books we studied in grade 8 - I could barely get through it, so saddening. Very well written though.

When I read your comment, I was thinking that I'd never read an Australian ghost story, that typically it's a more tangible, less atmospheric horror...but then I remembered "Picnic at Hanging Rock" which is the Queen Mama of atmospheric horror, both book & film! That one kept me up at night, aged 13.
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[User Picture]From: iibnf
2013-10-19 04:21 am (UTC)
I found it boring - where were the sharks? I dunno, I need sharks. Picnic with sharks at hanging rock? I'd like that. The creepy thing about PAHR is that it's a true story (more or less).
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[User Picture]From: tasabian
2013-10-19 02:02 pm (UTC)
The creepy thing about PAHR is that it's a true story (more or less).
None of it is true, which the author eventually copped to. It was a brilliant marketing technique decades and the other brilliant decision was cutting the last chapter which explained it all. Explanations kill the scares!

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[User Picture]From: iibnf
2013-10-19 10:37 pm (UTC)
Huh, it's still billed as 'based on a true story' here.

Mind you, so is every horror film, but it's always just Ed Gein.
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[User Picture]From: tasabian
2013-10-19 10:53 pm (UTC)
She was very clever in utilizing real places. I can't think of another writer who has so effectively left readers asking "But was it real?":
How much of Joan Lindsay's novel reflects a true incident? All of the locales mentioned in the story exist including a private girl's school in Woodend and a store run by the Hussey brothers. There was a real Dr. MacKenzie who practiced in the area at the turn of the century. There were however no references to the disappearances including any that would have been made in the local and Melbourne newspapers. The real girl's school called Clyde College did not open in Woodend until 1919. Alleged interviews given by Irma to the Society for Psychical Research cannot be traced and the newspaper that reported the interviews cannot be traced. Joan Lindsay remained enigmatic throughout all interviews and questioning regarding whether her novel was based on fact or fiction. She would merely smile and say, "It is an impossible question for me to answer. Fact and fiction are so closely intertwined."

And here's the explanation that was very sensibly excised with the "lost" chapter.
"While walking past the hanging rock, the girls experience several incomprehensible phenomena. Driven giddy by some supernatural suggestion of the monolith, they throw their corsets over the cliff, though they never fall to the bottom and instead hang in space in an impossible fashion. The girls and Miss McCraw notice a mystical "hole in space". Marion, Miranda, and Miss McCraw transform into small creatures and crawl into a hole in the rock, which another boulder then covers, leaving Irma alone and clawing at the fallen rock."

A more minor PAHR mystery: a number of IMDB posters vividly remember a scene of Miss McCraw ascending the rock - but no scene exists in the movie! And I remember it too. Collective delusion?
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[User Picture]From: roxymissrose
2013-10-18 02:10 pm (UTC)
Hunh! I can't remember reading any horror books as a child. I don't remember ever being scared by a book, not until Stephen King, and I was grown then. When I was little, I read a series of books printed under I think Alfred Hitchcock Presents, or something like it, and a few stories made me uneasy but not I-have-to-sleep-with-the-lights-on scared. Interesting! Now I feel like I missed out on something, lol!
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[User Picture]From: tasabian
2013-10-19 12:40 am (UTC)
I think I remember those Alfred Hitchcock books - they had deceptively bright, friendly covers but then the stories inside were grim!
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[User Picture]From: complicat
2013-10-18 09:59 pm (UTC)
I love the Dark Is Rising books - they're still some of my favourites.

I don't remember being scared by any books really, hmm. These ones looks fabulous though!
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[User Picture]From: tasabian
2013-10-19 12:44 am (UTC)
There seems to have been a little "boom" in high quality supernatural fiction for children between about 1965 - 1982. We'd get the UK books a few years later - I think every kid I knew did a book report on "The Ghost of Thomas Kempe" by Penelope Lively. (It's more funny than scary though.)

I love all the DIR books but only TDIR itself scared me - just something extra evocative in Will's powers being new & terrifying.
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