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

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...

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.

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The books we picked & why

Book cover of Anya's Ghost

Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan Why did I love 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!

By Vera Brosgol,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Anya's Ghost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn't kidding about the "Forever" part . . .

Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who's been dead for a century.

Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse. She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend―even a ghost―is just what she needs.

Or so she…


Book cover of Through the Woods

Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan Why did I love 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.  

By Emily Carroll,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Through the Woods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

'It came from the woods. Most strange things do.'

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.

These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll.

Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there...


Book cover of This One Summer

Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan Why did I love 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 Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked This One Summer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Every summer, Rose goes with her mum and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It's their getaway, their refuge. Rosie's friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose's mum and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It's a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.


Book cover of Chiggers

Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan Why did I love 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. 

By Hope Larson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chiggers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Abby thinks the new girl at summer camp, Shasta, is great because they both like all the same things, but Abby's friends can stand her, leaving Abby in the middle of a tough situation. Simultaneous.


Book cover of Small Spaces

Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan Why did I love 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.

By Katherine Arden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Small Spaces as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

New York Times bestselling adult author of The Bear and the Nightingale makes her middle grade debut with a creepy, spellbinding ghost story destined to become a classic.

After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn't think—she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made…


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The Finest Lies

By David J. Naiman,

Book cover of The Finest Lies

David J. Naiman Author Of The Finest Lies

New book alert!

Who am I?

Anyone with siblings knows the deal. Your sibling becomes your first best friend and closest confidant but also your first competitor and fiercest critic. Navigating that relationship as a teen is fraught with peril. If done poorly, it can leave deep scars. If successful, it can teach you the foundations of how to build healthy relationships for the rest of your life. This theme has everything a writer needs to craft an emotional narrative, and these books do it best.

David's book list on sibling rivalry that will inspire you to reconnect

What is my book about?

A mysterious stranger traps teen siblings in a precarious game where each must overcome their embittered past for the other to survive.

This suspenseful, yet winsome novel explores the power of family and forgiveness. But take heed. The truth can cut like shards of glass, especially for those who’d rather avoid it. Sometimes, only the finest lies will do.

The Finest Lies

By David J. Naiman,

What is this book about?

High schooler Nicole Hallett has just about had it with her brother Jay, so when a mysterious man appears with an offer to replace him with a better one, she doesn’t hesitate. Nicole has always been impulsive, but this time, she finds herself in predicament far worse than anything she’s experienced. Just like that, an average snow day—usually filled with hot cocoa and snowball fights—is commandeered by the stranger, who forces the siblings into a dangerous game.

Confronted by past reflections, tested by present complications, and threatened by future possibilities, Nicole has until the end of the day to disentangle…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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