This Halloween, we asked the team to share what their favourite spooky read growing up was, as well as what their favourite spooky Nosy Crow book is now. If you’re looking for some perfect reads this All Hallow’s Eve, read on for their spooktastic recommendations!
My favourite spooky book as a child was The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, set in the days around Christmas and New Year in rural Buckinghamshire where, at least initially, “the snow lay thin and apologetic over the world”. Will, the seventh son of a seventh son, is one of the Old Ones, critical to the coming fight between supernatural powers of good and evil, but, on the eve of his eleventh birthday, he is yet to find this out. So many episodes in this beautifully written fantasy made me shiver, and I still turn to the first chapter of the book from time to time to remind myself of how the spookiness is set up. Will’s pet rabbits are afraid of him and radios crackle with white noise when he passes them. Outside, rooks noisily circle over a hunched old man who scuttles away, “like a beetle”, and the wise farmer says when he’s told about it, “The Walker is abroad… and this night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining.” Later, after the farmer has given Will a strange symbol crafted from metal as a birthday present, which we will later learn is one of the Signs that will help to defeat evil, Will and his brother James witness the rooks attacking the Walker. James immediately starts to forget the incident while Will finds himself engulfed in “fear jumped at him for the third time like a great animal that had been waiting to spring”. It’s a classic chosen child fantasy narrative, but one of extraordinary and uncompromising depth and sadness and terror. Each year, many people read the book in a kind of ritual, starting on 21 December and reading through to 5 January. Writing this, I find myself planning to do just that this year but I know that actually, I will devour it in one sitting, as I always do.
To call Secrets of the Dead “spooky” is to trivialise its contents, but I want to write about this recently published book. It’s a book I have always wanted to create for children. I have been fascinated by the “archeology of people” – what we can find out about history from human remains – since I read, in my early twenties, The Bog People by Danish archaeologist P V Glob. It’s the book that was the hook for the book group favourite, Meet Me At The Museum. Glob (great name!) tells the story of the discovery of iron-age bodies, preserved in peat bogs – the bodies that feature in Seamus Heaney’s bog body poems in his collection, North. It is a failure of my imagination, perhaps, but I can feel no affinity to skeletons. I know that they are dead people, but they do not feel as if they are like me. Bog bodies, and other human remains that are mummified or preserved one way or another in a way that means that you can see their skin so their bones are clothed in flesh, like my own, do feel as if they are like me. To look at Tollund Man is to see something shockingly relatable. Secrets of the Dead is a book that deals respectfully and carefully, both in word and image, with bodies ranging from Tutankhamun through Ötzi, the frozen man found in the Alps and the bog bodies of Europe, to the crew of the Victorian Franklin Expedition to the Arctic. It explores what we can learn about the lives of these people from their remains – what they ate, what illnesses they suffered from, how they styled their hair, what clothes they wore, why and how they died – some because of a fatal accident, some through illness and some were sacrificed. It’s a powerful book about history, biology and our common humanity.
Take a look inside Secrets of the Dead:
In the picture book team, we talk a lot about sharing stories with children, and the spooky book I remember most fondly from my childhood is one my mum read to my sister and me: The Great Ghost Rescue by Eva Ibbotson. It’s about a friendly skeleton, Humphrey the Horrible (who really isn’t), and his truly terrifying family: his dad, the Gliding Kilt, a ghost who had his legs chopped off in battle; his mum, the Hag, who makes the most appalling smells; his sister, Wailing Winifred, and his brother George the Screaming Skull. My mum relished the funny and slightly inappropriate details (those smells, and the Hag’s long, black whiskers . . .) and her enthusiasm was infectious. It’s also a book with real heart and a fantastic plot and is one that helped instil in me a deep and enduring love of stories, of reading and of anything just a little bit subversive.
Continuing this theme, my top Nosy Crow picture book pick for Halloween is Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble by Tracey Corderoy and Joe Berger. Granny isn’t like other grannies – a fact her initially slightly embarrassed grandchild quickly learns to love. She wear funny hats, takes her bats to the cinema and cooks up gloopy soup for dinner. (Yes, she’s a witch.) It’s a brilliantly funny book with rhyming text that’s a pure joy to read aloud and wonderfully riotous artwork that’s full of the kinds of details kids love. And – do you know what? – Granny reminds me a little bit (just a little bit) of my mum!
Take a look inside Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble:
As a child growing up, Halloween hadn’t really become the monster that it is now. This suited me fine, as I spent Sunday afternoons behind the sofa when Doctor Who came on the television. It terrified me. Books however did not.
Roll on (many) years and I realised that Halloween was an extremely important thing to my kids, who LOVED all things gory, asking to watch Tim Burton films at the age of six “the one with the worm coming out of the eye, mum” and then we discovered Jampires, a wonderful rhyming picture flat from David O’Connell and illustrated by the wonderful Sarah McIntyre. It was loved by all three, sitting in my lap or on the floor, singing along to the story of how jam was going missing from children’s doughnuts, dark (but cute) characters swooping down once the sun had set. Sam, horrified by his dry doughnut, sets off with two little Jampires to Jampireland, a marvellous place of gingerbread towers and sugar-dusted orchards, to find out why.
This book was enjoyed by all of us, for most of October and early November, for many years.
As a child of the Seventies, and a huge fan of the supernatural comic Misty, the ten year old me would have been enthralled with The Big Book of Mysteries.
Full of tales of spontaneous combustion, disappearing crew men and lighthouse keepers, alien life forms, blood rain and silver fish falling from the skies, crop circles and sea monsters. Well-known tales as well as regional superstitions, and quirky fairy stories. Lost cities and ancient burial grounds- this book has it all and more. There’s even a glossary at the back to explain trickier words, which I found very helpful.
The book’s beautiful illustrations are accompanied by a very decent amount of information, leaving you informed but wanting to find out more.
Take a look inside The Big Book of Mysteries:
There’s nothing quite like the delicious thrill of a scary book at Halloween! When I was a child these were fewer and further between which made Jan Pienkowski’s Haunted House a delightfully chilling surprise. I remember being both completely terrified by and totally drawn to its surreal story (Did I really want to let myself in? What happened to the Doctor and who was in that box??). I was also obsessed with all the hidden surprises, pop ups and mechanisms to the point that they were all stuck together with Sellotape by the time I was grown. The sound of the saw on the box is still one of my favourite ever pieces of paper engineering (and I work in print production so these things appeal to me!)
These days children are much better catered to with memorable titles they want to return to again and again. One such is We’re Going On A Pumpkin Hunt (Goldie Hawk and Angie Rozelaar) which must serve its purpose because my daughter demanded ‘Again’ after I’d read it to her for the first time – always the seal of approval. Like its well known namesake, in this title you’re also drawn in by the repetitive phrasing and onomatopoeic noises (meow, flap, creak, swish), all the way to your final trick or treating pumpkin decorated destination. Plus the use of the same neon orange pantone throughout (again, a production geek!) really makes the images zing.
Whatever you choose to curl up with this Halloween I hope it’s a similarly ghoulishly good read!
Take a look inside We’re Going on a Pumpkin Hunt:
As a superfan of the supernatural, I am always recommending spooky books to anyone who will listen! Although picking a favourite was a challenge too far, so here are two!
The Twisted Tree, by Rachel Burge, is the book that first got me into horror. Think ghost story meets YA meets Norse Mythology. It’s absolutely terrifying and I would not recommend reading it on your own in the dark!
Another spooky read I will always recommend is White Smoke by Tiffany D Jackson. Mari and her family move to the small town of Cedarville for a fresh start but are literally haunted by the ghosts of their past… While investigating the mysterious happenings in her house, Mari and her friends begin to uncover the disturbing injustice and corruption gripping their town.
My favourite Nosy Crow book of all time is conveniently also a spooky read! Peekaboo Pumpkin is the perfect mix of cute and aesthetic but with all the iconic Halloween themes. It’s the kind of book that I would have been completely obsessed with as a child.
Take a look inside Peekaboo Pumpkin:
Early on in my career (reeeeally early on, I had practically only just left school, ahem) I worked on the Point Horror series that Scholastic UK brought in from the US. Every single title was a complete joy – the glamour of the US settings, the freedom of the teenage protagonists with their high-tops and walk-in wardrobes and the fact that they put themselves in perilous situations over and over again, and then came back for more. Have a dreadful time babysitting in a spooky house and nearly die? Sure. Fancy babysitting again next week? Sure! Point Horror was hugely popular with its 12+ readership and sniffed at by those somewhat older who saw it as slight and formulaic, but it was perfect comfort reading after a hard day at school, just the right amount of thrills and spills and everyone home safe for tea (mostly). Marvellous.
In a slightly different vein but just as excellent is The House on the Edge by Alex Cotter. No walk-in wardrobes for Faith – her house is perched on the edge of a crumbling cliff, there are sea ghosts in the basement and she’s not sure if her new best friend is dead or alive. Don’t read it too late at night but do read it if you like brilliantly told ghost stories with heft and heart.
Take a look inside The House on the Edge:
We’d love to hear some of your own spooky recommendations, too! Let us know on socials what you’ll be reading this Halloween by tagging @nosycrow.