The best books to deliver holiday magic with a dark twist

Kyle Sullivan Author Of Krampus Confidential
By Kyle Sullivan

Who am I?

Since I was a child, Halloween and Christmas have held equally hallowed positions in my heart. When I learned of Krampus folklore in my teens, I was immediately fascinated. Krampus offered the best of both worlds—a dose of Halloween creepiness to counterbalance the bright jubilation of the winter holidays. Krampus Confidential, a middle-grade mystery, and adaptation of The Maltese Falcon, is my second children’s book that aims to introduce this magnificent creature to children in a way that doesn’t inspire nightmares. My first, Goodnight Krampus, is a board book for young readers that reimagines the monster as a rambunctious toddler who gives Santa a hard time by refusing to go to sleep on Christmas Eve.


I wrote...

Krampus Confidential

By Kyle Sullivan, Derek Sullivan (illustrator),

Book cover of Krampus Confidential

What is my book about?

It’s almost Christmas, but the nights in Tinseltown are anything but silent. In this hardboiled parody of The Maltese Falcon, Ruprecht, a twelve-year-old krampus and wannabe detective, gets more than he bargained for when he takes the case of a terrified elf. Finding himself at the top of the Tinseltown Police Department’s naughty list, Ruprecht is joined by his best friend, a ghost named Marley, to explore the underbelly of this festive but gritty metropolis, solve the mystery, and clear his name for good.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil

By Al Ridenour,

Book cover of The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil

Why this book?

In addition to providing an engaging and well-researched introduction to Krampus (the darkest winter holiday creature of them all), The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas is a wonderful exploration of a wide spectrum of delightfully sinister facets of European Christmas tradition. For centuries, grim entities have emerged from the Christmastime shadows to offer a counterbalance to the lightness and joy of the holiday season. Ridenour connects Krampus to this tradition by taking the reader on a thrilling journey to an old world seething with witches, ghosts, demons, and child-eating ghouls. This book provided invaluable context and detail as I crafted the monster-filled, festive and shadowy setting of my own book.


The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Scott,

Book cover of The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories

Why this book?

Though the stories in this collection aren’t likely to scare you silly, they will almost certainly give you the creeps. The Victorians loved spending their cold, dark winter evenings with eerie tales of the unsettling, the uncanny, and the unholy. And who could blame them? The 13 tales collected here are diverse in content and tone, but they all offer an ideal candlelit escape when the days grow dark and the cold wind wails.


The Twelve Terrors of Christmas

By John Updike, Edward Gorey (illustrator),

Book cover of The Twelve Terrors of Christmas

Why this book?

No list of the delightfully dark would be complete without an appearance by the preeminent gothic illustrator, Edward Gorey. Gorey’s wry, one-of-a-kind style brings to life (and death) John Updike’s dark deconstruction of 12 Christmas traditions. Though it’s now out of print, this title is a must-have for any Edward Gorey enthusiast, and for any fan of the unlimited imaginative potential when artists look beyond the lights of the holiday season to focus on the shadows instead.


A Christmas Carol

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of A Christmas Carol

Why this book?

In my book, the main character is a Krampus named Ruprecht, and his best friend is a ghost named Viviana Marley. This book-hungry ghost happens to be the daughter of none other than Jacob Marley, the first of four spirits to visit Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ all-time classic, A Christmas Carol. While the Victorian tradition of Christmas-time ghost stories is sadly no longer en vogue, Dickens’ story has struck a chord with audiences of every generation since its debut in 1843, and it’s easy to see why. A Christmas Carol is, among many things, a delightful celebration of the bright and dark sides of Christmas packaged into one jaunty narrative.


Christmas is Coming: The original verse for children

By Jóhannes úr Kötlum,

Book cover of Christmas is Coming: The original verse for children

Why this book?

Nobody does dark holiday tradition quite like the Icelanders. From a gigantic cat that preys on children who aren’t wearing new clothes to an ugly ogre who eats naughty children, Icelandic Christmas folklore is replete with macabre creatures ready to pounce. This collection of poems by Jóhannes úr Kötlum was originally published in 1932 and features the inspiration for several characters in my own book, including Grýla, Jóla the Yule Cat, and the Yule Kids (known in Icelandic folklore as the mischievous Yule Lads).


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Christmas, magical realism, and ghost story?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Christmas, magical realism, and ghost story.

Christmas Explore 89 books about Christmas
Magical Realism Explore 98 books about magical realism
Ghost Story Explore 81 books about ghost story

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Christmas Day in the Morning, The Gift of the Magi, and The Elves And The Shoemaker if you like this list.