Fear is a natural human response to real or perceived threats. Not everyone enjoys being scared, but for many of us there is nothing like it! I’ve recently read several articles exploring why people intentionally place themselves in situations they know will scare them — horror movies, Halloween haunted houses, and zombie runs, for example. The simple answer is that the thrill is worth the scare, as long as we know the threat is not real and in the end we escape. The movie ends, you leave the haunted house, the zombies aren’t real.
For middle readers, 4th-6th grade, one of the safest places to be scared is in books. Authors like Bruce Coville and R.L. Stine have pulled in many a reluctant reader. But as reading skills improve and readers mature they want more thought provoking, less predictable storylines. I’d like to share a few titles I have recently enjoyed.
- “The Night Gardener” by Jonathan Auxier is the story of orphaned Irish siblings sent to work for the Windsor family at their creepy English mansion. The estate is haunted by the night gardener who tends to a magical tree that grants wishes. But is the reward worth the cost?
- “A Tale Dark and Grimm” by Adam Gidwitz is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Cleverly written with the author humorously interjecting throughout, he promises blood early on and makes good on his promise. It is followed by two sequels for kids who love series.
- “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman won the 2009 Newbery Medal. It tells the story of Nobody Owen who, as a toddler, witnesses the murder of his parents. He escapes by crawling into a neighboring cemetery where he is adopted and raised by the supernatural inhabitants. Most of the story revolves around his relationships and experiences, but as he comes of age the story turns to finding his parents murderer.
- “The Nest” by Kenneth Oppel deals with childhood angst, accepting imperfections in ourselves and others, and a really creepy angel/wasp. The main character, Steve, makes a deal to “fix” his sick baby brother but realizes his choice may have been the wrong one. Is it too late to go back on his deal without facing dire consequences? The story is hauntingly illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Jon Klassen.
To those out there who love a good scare, I hope you will check out these titles. And remember, if the story gets too scary, just close the book!