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!)
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now, which books terrified you?