The best spooky (but not too spooky) ghost stories for kids

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a children’s book author and regularly read 2-3 middle grade books a week. I love books that respect kids enough to make them think, and I seek out good books constantly, whether they are intended for kids, youth, or adults. I’m the author of the early education books It’s OK Not to Share and It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, and the ghost adventure The Griffins of Castle Cary for kids ages 8-12. I’m a graduate of Swarthmore College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and besides writing, I host two podcasts: BookSmitten (children’s books), and Renegade Rules (early childhood). Enjoy the books!


I wrote...

The Griffins of Castle Cary

By Heather Shumaker,

Book cover of The Griffins of Castle Cary

What is my book about?

Siblings Meg, Will, and Ariel Griffin are off on an adventure! They can’t wait to spend a week visiting their eccentric aunt and her giant, tongue-drooling Newfoundland dog in England. But when they arrive, they discover a bit of a ghost problem. Add in some very peculiar lights, strange new friends, a police chase, and some stampeding sheep, and the Griffin kids are in over their heads—literally. The three children must race to solve the mystery before the ghosts take something that doesn’t belong to them. Ages 8-12. Winner Best Children’s Fiction (Society of Midland Authors, 2020). 

“Fast-paced. Suspenseful scenes…and laugh-out-loud funny scenes perfect for young readers.” – School Library Connection

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Night Gardener

Heather Shumaker Why did I love this book?

I read this book a couple of years ago and the spooky setting still stays with me. It’s a creepy Victorian-style house with a sinister wishing tree that lurks inside it. Two innocent orphans confront the ghostly Night Gardener and try to resist the temptation of having any wish granted. I found this mystery pulls you in more and more deeply, just like the tree clutching at your soul. Auxier, who’s known for his “strange stories for strange kids” is masterful with spooky suspense.

By Jonathan Auxier,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Night Gardener as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Irish orphans Molly, 14, and Kip, 10, travel to England to work as servants in a crumbling manor house where nothing is quite what it seems, and soon the siblings are confronted by a mysterious stranger and the secrets of the cursed house. By the author of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes.


Book cover of The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Heather Shumaker Why did I love this book?

I first read this book because my grandmother lived around the corner from the author. The book is from 1973, but it resurged in popularity when a movie came out in 2018. Bellairs is great at creating characters who are utterly human and utterly odd. The book verges on the almost-too-scary when the main character, Lewis, opens a crypt and brings an evil witch back to life. Especially when the dead lady moves in across the street. Talk about shivers! Yikes. But it’s good. Very good.

By John Bellairs,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The House with a Clock in Its Walls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

The American classic - now a major motion picture from Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, starring Cate Blanchett, Jack Black and Kyle MacLachlan

Lewis Barnavelt doesn't have time on his side...

When Lewis Barnavelt, an orphan, comes to stay with his uncle Jonathan, he expects to meet an ordinary person. But he is wrong. Uncle Jonathan and his next-door neighbour, Mrs Zimmermann, are both witches! Lewis couldn't be happier. What's not to like about seeing his uncle practise spells and eating Mrs Zimmermann's delicious cookies?

At first, watching magic is enough. Then Lewis experiments with magic himself and unknowingly resurrects the…


Book cover of The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly

Heather Shumaker Why did I love this book?

I like books that make you think, and this book satisfies. Charlie remembers his brother. But that’s odd, because Charlie is an only child. Besides being a mystery, this book excited me because it probes the idea of loving someone and missing someone who doesn’t exist. Or doesn’t exist anymore. Not too scary, this book gives plenty of adventure. The children have to enter an abandoned orphan asylum to find the ghostly, missing children.

By Rebecca K.S. Ansari,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

“As puzzle pieces click into place, The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly reveals that it’s stories—and family—that make us whole. A deeply satisfying and beautiful book.” —Elana K. Arnold, National Book Award finalist and author of The Question of Miracles

Charlie O’Reilly is an only child. Which is why it makes everyone uncomfortable when he talks about his brother.

Liam. His eight-year-old kid brother, who, up until a year ago, slept in the bunk above Charlie, took pride in being as annoying as possible, and was the only person who could make Charlie laugh until it hurt.

Then came the…


Book cover of The Graveyard Book

Heather Shumaker Why did I love this book?

If you’re squeamish, skip the opening chapter. You just have to know that the boy is orphaned and raised by ghosts in the nearby graveyard. What I love about this book (besides how well Gaiman writes), is that it’s really the story of The Jungle Book, redone with ghosts. An exceptional book by an exceptional storyteller. Definitely worth a spot on the spooky bookshelf.

By Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked The Graveyard Book 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?

When a baby escapes a murderer intent on killing his entire family, who would have thought it would find safety and security in the local graveyard? Brought up by the resident ghosts, ghouls and spectres, Bod has an eccentric childhood learning about life from the dead. But for Bod there is also the danger of the murderer still looking for him - after all, he is the last remaining member of the family. A stunningly original novel deftly constructed over eight chapters, featuring every second year of Bod's life, from babyhood to adolescence. Will Bod survive to be a man?


Book cover of A Candle in Her Room

Heather Shumaker Why did I love this book?

I love all books by Ruth M. Arthur, and this one is particularly special. It starts with three sisters and an evil doll named Dido. I love multi-generational stories, and this one starts in the late 1800s and ends up in a post-WW II orphanage. I have read this book about seven times and never tire of its compelling power. Arthur weaves the supernatural into real life and loss, exploring how trauma can persist and damage generations, while giving young readers a gripping read.

By Ruth M. Arthur,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Candle in Her Room as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


You might also like...

Lightning Strike Blues

By Gayleen Froese,

Book cover of Lightning Strike Blues

Gayleen Froese Author Of Lightning Strike Blues

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Communications officer Singer-songwriter Fan of all animals Role-playing geek Nature photographer

Gayleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

One summer night in a small prairie city, 18-year-old Gabriel Reece accidentally outs himself to his redneck brother Colin, flees on his motorcycle, and gets struck by lightning on his way out of town.

He’s strangely fine, walking away from his melted pile of bike without a scratch. There’s no time to consider his new inhuman durability before his brother disappears and his childhood home burns down. He’s become popular, too—local cops and a weird private eye are after him, wanting to know if his brother is behind a recent murder.

Answers might be in the ashes of the house where Gabe and Colin grew up, if Gabe and his friends can stay alive and out of jail long enough to find them.

Lightning Strike Blues

By Gayleen Froese,

What is this book about?

On Friday, Gabriel Reece gets struck by lightning while riding his motorcycle.

It's not the worst thing that happens to him that week.

Gabe walks away from a smoldering pile of metal without a scratch-or any clothes, which seem to have been vaporized. And that's weird, but he's more worried about the sudden disappearance of his brother, Colin, who ditched town the second Gabe accidentally outed himself as gay.

Gabe tries to sift through fragmented memories of his crummy childhood for clues to his sudden invincibility, but he barely has time to think before people around town start turning up…


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