For a lot of people, Halloween isn't just one night, but a series of movie nights and story swaps leading up to the inevitable, big, candy-gobbling party. These folks know that you have to get psyched up for Halloween. Now that the weather is getting cool, it's the perfect time to break out your spooky gear along with your sweaters and tall boots.
I'm not a huge horror fan, but I love a good spooky story, especially when it's in a picture book. There's just something about connecting haunting imagery with an otherwise innocuous tale. It adds extra layers of enjoyment you wouldn't experience if the book was illustrated by a different artist or — the horror! — not at all. And can you imagine if masters of horror like Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft published every novel and short story in fully-illustrated editions? Let's not make that a thing, OK?
If you're looking to gear up for Halloween by getting your spooky story fix, these 18 picture books will set the perfect mood for your autumn holiday. A few are new releases, but many are the old classics we all know and love, and almost all of them are mostly harmless for children to read. Enjoy!
Seen and Not Heard by Katie May Green
All day long, the children of Shiverhawk Hall sit perfectly still in their portraits. But when night comes, they don't waste the chance to go jumping on the beds and raiding the larder. The muted illustrations in Katie May Green's Seen and Not Heard are bound to get you into the Halloween spirit.
The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey
Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies is quite possibly the most dreary alphabet book you'll ever read. It all begins with "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs," and 25 children follow her to their own grisly, rhyming deaths.
The Tailypo by Joanna Galdone
In this Appalachian folktale, a man on an unproductive hunting trip cuts off a strange creature's tail for his dinner. He's unwittingly angered a malevolent entity, however, and it will have its revenge. Haunted by the creature who constantly asks "who's got my Tailypo?," the man must try to survive the night as he's hunted by his own prey.
Bony-Legs by Joanna Cole
Joanna Cole's retelling of the Baba Yaga story centers on a little girl named Sasha, whose mother sends her to ask Bony-Legs for some borrowed thread. After being invited inside the witch's house, however, Sasha is destined to become supper unless she can make it home safely.
Der Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffman
You might remember Der Struwwelpeter from the "German bedtime story" Family Guy gag. This 1885 story collection features 10 cautionary tales for everything from thumb-sucking to playing with matches, almost all of which end with the petulant child's misfortune or — gulp — demise.
The Teeny-Tiny Woman by Paul Galdone
Paul Galdone's The Teeny-Tiny Woman is quite similar to wife Joanna's The Tailypo. In this English folktale, a teeny-tiny woman finds a teeny-tiny bone and winds up haunted by a teeny-tiny voice coming from her teeny-tiny cupboard.
The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean make a fantastic team. In The Wolves in the Walls, they collaborate to tell the story of Lucy, a young girl who can hear something lurking in the walls of her home. No one heeds her warnings until it's too late, however. Now it's up to Lucy to come up with a way to take back her home.
What There Is Before There Is Anything There by Liniers
Every night, after his parents have turned out the lights, a young boy watches as strange-looking creatures float down from the ceiling to stare at him in bed. He runs to his parents for shelter in their bed, but eventually the creatures find him there as well. Liniers' What There Is Before There Is Anything There is designed to help children get over their fears of the dark, but its creepy tone will spark your Halloween fun.
The Mystery of Eatum Hall by John Kelly and Cathy Tincknell
In John Kelly and Cathy Tincknell's The Mystery of Eatum Hall, a goose and a pig are invited to attend a luxury weekend dining experience. They'll have to be careful, however, if they don't want to end up on the menu.
I Want to Eat Your Books by Karin Lefranc and Tyler Parker
I Want to Eat Your Books features the scariest zombie I've ever seen: one who seeks out books to munch on and crunch on. When he finds their school library, some intrepid young readers must find a way to save their reading materials from his mindless appetite.
Midnight in the Cemetery by Cheryl Harness
Two kids decide to hunt for treasure in their local graveyard, only to be scared off by some territorial ghosts. That's the premise of Cheryl Harness' Midnight in the Cemetery. It's a beautifully illustrated alphabetical search-and-find, and you'll have just as much fun as a child looking for its hidden pictures.
Goodnight Goon by Michael Rex
In this parody of Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon, Michael Rex lets a sleepy little goon say "Goodnight" to his surroundings. If you grew up on the original, you'll love Goodnight Goon, and its creepy-crawly humor will get you psyched for Halloween.
Halloween Hustle by Charlotte Gunnufson
Halloween Hustle follows Skeleton, who just wants to dance his way to the big Halloween party. Unfortunately, he isn't very graceful, and all his spills and tumbles are making him lose his bones. Readers who constantly find themselves running late will relate to Skeleton's woes.
Baba Yaga by Blair Lent
Sure, I read Bony-Legs as a kid, but this is the Baba Yaga story I remember. It's the classic tale of the woods-dwelling witch who lives in a house on chicken-leg stilts, illuminated by Blair Lent's funky '60s illustrations.
The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci
In this gorgeously illustrated Robert D. San Souci book, a little girl named Blanche helps out an elderly witch, who rewards her with abundant food and wealth. When Blanche's sister Rose comes to call, however, she makes fun of the old woman, and winds up with nothing but snakes and toads and bugs.
Wicked Jack by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge
This classic tale centers on the eponymous Jack, a blacksmith, who is meaner than the Devil himself. No, really. When the Devil comes to call, Jack makes sure he won't be back. But how will he be rewarded in the end?
Fright Club by Ethan Long
I know what you're thinking and no, this isn't a kid-friendly, Halloween-themed retelling of Fight Club. It's actually a really great story about inclusivity, set against a Halloween backdrop. The Fright Club is practicing for their chance to scare trick-or-treaters, and the cute woodland animals want to join in, too. But are they scary enough to make it into the club?
Sipping Spiders through a Straw by Kelly DiPucchio
Teach them to your friends, and the gross campfire songs found in Kelly DiPucchio's Sipping Spiders through a Straw will be the hit of your Halloween bonfire. Because, I mean, really, how many times can you listen to "The Monster Mash" without getting bored?