7 Children's Books That Are Actually Super Creepy

My younger cousin Tyler is seven years old now, which means I can finally start buying him some of my favorite childhood books (something I’ve been wanting to do since the day he was born). I knew I wanted to be the one to introduce him to Harry Potter, but I wanted to get him some of my other favorite titles as well. As I started looking through some of my old books, however, I realized: these books are really freakin' creepy!

I'm not sure if I noticed this when I was reading them as a kid, but a lot of children's books are actually pretty dark, depressing, and existential crisis-inducing. Whether it's the bloodbath that is the collection of original Grimm's fairy tales or the super depressing ending of The Little Match Girl, we let kids deal with some pretty heavy stuff. Even seemingly innocent and beloved stories like Where the Wild Things Are have some genuinely scary elements to them. Is there a reason we're trying to scare the pants off of the younger generations?

Of course, I still love most of the stories on this list and would happily get copies for Tyler. But I would probably also have to give his mother a heads up that my gifts might just give him nightmares.

1. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

In all fairness, Gaiman was definitely trying to terrify you in Coraline, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the scariest books I've read as a child or an adult. The Other Mother, whether she's a disembodied hand or an overbearing maternal figure with button eyes, is absolutely horrifying and is still capable of giving me nightmares.

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2. Grimm's Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm

Have you ever actually read the real Grimm Fairy Tales, and not the Disney-fied retellings of them? They're incredibly violent, bleak, and nightmare inducing. They don't all have a happily-ever-after, and many of the tales involve horrific mutilation and abuse of children. I would only read the Grimm tales to kids I really didn't like.

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3. The Twits by Roald Dahl

A terrible, cruel couple who hate each other spend their days making each other's life miserable, abusing a family of monkeys, and catching birds and baking them into pies. Why would you read this to a child? Oh, and the "happy ending" consists of the Twits catching a disease that causes them to shrink until they disappear. What the what?

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4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Everyone lost their mind when the hipster-fied Where the Wild Things Are movie came out, but personally it just had me reliving the days when I was terrified of this book. Believe it or not, I don't find the story of a nasty child who goes to live on an island of monsters who actively try to eat him in the end endearing.

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5. The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen

Maybe you've read a less devastating version of the story, but let me dispel any illusions you might have about this tale: it's about a little girl with an abusive father who dies alone in the cold. Heartwarming, isn't it? Even better, the last thing she sees before she succumbs to hypothermia is a delusion of her dead grandmother. Great bedtime story.

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6. The Witches by Roald Dahl

Not that the whole book isn't creepy (a bunch of witches who want to kill all of the children in England by turning them into rodents?), but the ending of this book is BY FAR the craziest part of it. Not only is our protagonist forced to live out the rest of his life as a mouse, but he's also told that he'll only live for a few more years. And he's cool with that! Roald Dahl, do you hate children?

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7. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle

Reading this book gave me an adolescent existential crisis. Imagine getting a call at dinner telling you that a nuclear war is about to happen, and all you can do is wait for the end to come. Sure, Charles gets to save humanity with the help of a time-traveling flying unicorn, which is awesome, but the beginning still freaked me out.

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Images: Focus Features