If there's one thing horror movies have taught us, it's that a doe-eyed kid can easily be the creepiest entity you ever encounter. The 17 novels and short-story collections on the list below contain the 19
creepiest kids in fiction, so those of you searching for a scare need look no further.
Gage Creed. Damien Thorn. Toshio Saeki. Pluto. These
kids are arguably the scariest things to be found in their respective horror movies — Pet Sematary, The Omen, The Grudge, and Us. You might be surprised to learn that creepy kids translate just as well in scary books as they do in scary movies, particularly if you aren't well-versed in horror as a genre of literature. And even though some of the books on the list below cannot be classified outright as horror, the children found in their pages are just as spooky as those in any tale of terror.
My spooky kids come from books that span form and genre, so there's a little something for everyone here. No matter whether you're an old horror hand, or a newcomer to scary stories, you'll find something to sleep with the lights on for below. Check out all my recommendations below:
Merricat Blackwood from 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' by Shirley Jackson
At the opening of Shirley Jackson's
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, narrator Merricat tells us that she "like[s her] sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the deathcup mushroom." If that weren't ominous enough, Merricat doubles down on her personal creep factor by being a whimsical-yet-calculating 18-year-old — a little too old to be a creepy kid in fact, but far too immature to be considered anything but. Click here to buy Rhoda Penmark from 'The Bad Seed' by William March
The bad little girl to end all bad little girls, Rhoda Penmark is downright evil. An eight-year-old sociopath, Rhoda kills multiple people in cold blood over the course of William March's 1954 novel, for petty reasons, or to cover up previous crimes. A master manipulator, March's little villainess gets away with all her bad deeds, simply because she makes everyone else think that she is a perfect angel.
Click here to buy David from 'Fever Dream' by Samanta Schweblin
Samanta Schweblin's unsettling short novel,
Fever Dream, features a creepy child named David who sits at protagonist Amanda's bedside, talking to her about " the exact moment the worms come into being." As disturbing as Schweblin's content, David's strange little speeches, distributed throughout Fever Dream, drive the narrative to its climax. Click here to buy Norah and Jonah Grayer from 'Slade House' by David Mitchell
Slade House tells the story of Norah and Jonah Grayer — twin Atemporals who fuel their immortality by feeding on the souls of select others. The twins' carnivorous appetites will chill you to the bone, and the grudges they spark in the hearts of their victims' friends and loved ones make up the bulk of Mitchell's unputdownable Slade House. Click here to buy Miles from 'The Grownup' by Gillian Flynn
A delightful ghost story with a twist, Gillian Flynn's
The Grownup centers on a fraudulent "medium" hired to investigate a supposedly haunted house. What she encounters instead is Miles, a disaffected teenager who knows a little too much about everything going on with the con artist and his stepmother. Click here to buy. Delbert Grady's Daughters from 'The Shining' by Stephen King
The poor, murdered Grady girls came to signify everything that's spooky about
The Shining, faster than you could say, "Come play with us." Although there's nothing malicious in the girls' presence at The Overlook, the bloody "twins in the hall" have spent the better part of the last 42 years scaring the bejeebus out of us all. Click here to buy. The Girl-with-Bells-for-Eyes from "Especially Heinous: 272 Views of 'Law & Order SVU'" by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado's novella, collected in
Her Body and Other Parties, purports to be a list of episode synopses from Law and Order: SVU. In this freaky version of the hit procedural, however, Olivia Benson is haunted by the girl-with-bells-for-eyes, a silent, tinkling spirit that comes to her each night, occasionally bringing a friend. Click here to buy. Marjorie Barrett from 'A Head Full of Ghosts' by Paul Tremblay
Framed as the recollections of a broken younger sister, Paul Tremblay's
A Head Full of Ghosts tells the story of Marjorie Barrett, whose family pursues a televised exorcism for their daughter. Click here to buy. Roger from 'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding
Lord of the Flies is peppered with bad children, but the creepiest of them all is Roger, an older boy who sides with Jack in the island's political tug-of-war. Roger's frightening behavior begins when he throws rocks at small boys on the shore, and culminates in the murder of an innocent child. He's the creepiest Lord of the Flies character by far — if you don't count the pig's head. Click here to buy Arty from 'Geek Love' by Katherine Dunn
A lot of weird stuff goes down in
Geek Love, but most of it comes back to Arty, the eldest sibling in a family of self-made carnival freaks. As the show's No. 1 draw, Arty develops one hell of an ego, which leads him to murder at least one of his siblings, and to establish a cult devoted to his own image. His calculating control of the family business puts him in the top classes of literary villains and creepy kids. Click here to buy Alia Atreides from 'Dune' by Frank Herbert
You know you're pretty creepy when people refuse to be in your presence and call you an "Abomination." Gifted with consciousness and the knowledge of her foremothers while still in the womb, Alia grows up a strange and devious child. She kills her first victims at a tender age, and goes on to become one of the Dune series' most well-known villains.
Click here to buy Kamala from "Message in a Bottle" by Nalo Hopkinson
Adopted by the protagonist's friends, Kamala is a strange child whose disability — a common one amongst adoptees in the story — and weird presence unsettle the main character, who already dislikes children. Although Kamala is eventually revealed to be less child than... something else... she falls into the creepy kid category by virtue of her appearance and demeanor alone.
Click here to buy Sadako from 'The Ring' by Koji Suzuki
Japanese horror? Check. Creepy kid? Check. Murder and mysterious deaths? Check. Koji Suzuki's
The Ring has it all, including Sadako — called Samara in the Hollywood film adaptation — the spirit of a vengeful child intent on killing as many people as she possibly can. Click here to buy TillyTilly from 'The Icarus Girl' by Helen Oyeyemi
In Helen Oyeyemi's first novel, a young Nigerian-British girl suffers from a fractured identity after moving from England to Nigeria and back again. Fortunately — or perhaps not — she has a constant friend, TillyTilly, to keep her company and understand her problems. But TillyTilly knows more than a little girl her age should, and the course of the novel reveals that she is far from what she seems.
Click here to buy Shiva from 'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie
Set in the aftermath of India's partition,
Midnight's Children focuses on the lives of a number of children born just as India received its independence from the British Empire. All of the children have magical powers and abilities, but one of them, Shiva, just wants to watch the world burn. Click here to buy Hanna from 'Baby Teeth' by Zoje Stage
The villain of Zoje Stage's anxious novel, seven-year-old Hanna, does everything in her power to frustrate her mother, Suzette, to the point of madness. She forces her family to homeschool her, refuses to say a word, and charms her way into her father's good graces. As the apple of his eye, how could she possibly be as vile as her mother claims?
Click here to buy Marina from 'Such Small Hands' by Andrés Barba
A child with a mysterious and clouded past, Marina quickly becomes an object of interest when she goes to live with the other little girls in the orphanage. But Marina's game, in which one of the girls must become submissive as a doll each night, soon reveals the malice of which each of her new dormmates is capable.
Click here to buy