The best scary books (or books about summer) for kids

Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan Author Of Brain Camp
By Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan

Who am I?

Both of us grew up in the suburbs, which were honestly kind of boring, especially in the summer—so early on, we turned to books and telling stories to entertain ourselves and others. Susan writes stuff that relies on imagination, fantasy, and creepy stuff—and because she’s kind of immature (what nice people call “a kid at heart”), she also writes a ton of kids’ TV. Laurence’s imagination is more about mysteries and humor—he’s written detective novels and short stories. Writing together is awesome: despite minor differences, we share anxiety, similar senses of humor, and a love of storytelling. In addition to Brain Camp, we wrote the graphic novel City of Spies, as well as the YA dystopian trilogy, Wasteland.

I wrote...

Brain Camp

By Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan, Faith Erin Hicks (illustrator),

Book cover of Brain Camp

What is my book about?

Neither artistic, dreamy Jenna nor surly, delinquent Lucas expected to find themselves at an invitation-only summer camp that turns problem children into prodigies. And yet, here they both are at Camp Fielding, settling in with all the other losers and misfits who've been shipped off by their parents in a last-ditch effort to produce a child worth bragging about.

But strange disappearances, spooky lights in the woods, and a chilling alteration that turns the dimmest, rowdiest campers into docile zombie Einsteins have Jenna and Lucas feeling more than a little suspicious... and a lot afraid.

The books we picked & why

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Anya's Ghost

By Vera Brosgol,

Book cover of Anya's Ghost

Why this book?

This is a totally fresh book that’s both scary and touching. Anya is a Russian immigrant who meets a ghost named Emily who helps her cope with adolescence. But Emily becomes more and more controlling – what does she want from the living girl? When Anya decides to solve Emily’s murder, she finds out that the ghost has secrets of her own. We thought this book was cool: a coming-of-age story for a slightly older/YA audience. We also love any genre work that can take powerful social or political issues and find the horror in them—like the movies Get Out, as well as the Iranian films Under the Shadow and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night—kinda what we tried to do in our book!

Through the Woods

By Emily Carroll,

Book cover of Through the Woods

Why this book?

We are huge suckers for story collections – especially scary stuff that makes you turn the page. Through the Woods is a terrific graphic book of supernatural stories that remind us of classic, old-fashioned heightened/horror anthologies – everything from the Brothers Grimm to old TV series like The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery. In her non-GN life, Susan also writes kids’ TV and considers the episodes she wrote for the old Nickelodeon series, Are You Afraid of the Dark? a major career highlight. If you can write something that’s short yet punchy – and still scary – that’s about as good as it gets. These are definitely the kind of stories you remember even years later.  

This One Summer

By Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki (illustrator),

Book cover of This One Summer

Why this book?

Okay, this one isn’t scary. But This One Summer is an awesome coming-of-age GN about two young girls who spend a fateful summer at a lake house. While the themes of family dysfunction and the onset of sexual understanding make this skew a little older, the Tamakis really capture the details of not just summer, summer crushes, and summer communities, but also friendship and tween girls in general. Funnily enough, the two of us always hated summer – as kids, we spent them indoors with equal parts air conditioning, books, TV, and for Susan, cats. (Umm, and it hasn’t really changed that much since then.)


By Hope Larson,

Book cover of Chiggers

Why this book?

Chiggers is both funny and painful in the way it captures that terrifying turning point of growing up: when your former besties become strangers, when you go out on a limb befriending someone new, and when falling in love complicates everything. (Oh, and it teaches you how to make a friendship bracelet!) Camp was intense for both of us: Laurence went to one where they forced the kids to watch a horror movie and when he tried to cover his face with his sweatshirt, a counselor literally yanked it away. Susan went to Korean-American camp, where everyone was supposed to be learning about their culture, but instead focused on what all kids do: first crushes, ghost stories, and intense friendships and betrayals. 

Small Spaces

By Katherine Arden,

Book cover of Small Spaces

Why this book?

Not a GN… but still awesome! Small Spaces is a genuinely creepy novel about a girl dealing with real issues – grief, growing up – when she comes across a mysterious book that she begins to think might actually be true. When a scary bus driver warns Ollie and her classmates, “at nightfall, they’ll come for the rest of you”—as readers, we are so there! As kids, we were both pretty imaginative—and Susan especially loved anything scary. In fact, the first story she ever wrote that she was genuinely proud of was when she was in seventh grade. It was called “Ghost Cat,” about a girl mourning the death of a beloved pet. But while scary, it still had a happy ending.

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