What Books Scared You?

Alison Morris - October 31, 2008

When I was a child I was easily frightened by things that went bump in the night. Ghost stories filled me with panic. Horror movies were completely out of the question. When I was 8 years old I watched the movie Poltergeist on television, in broad daylight, at my best friend Anne Yackee’s house, with my fingers stuck in my ears and my eyes squinting at the television screen. My mother heaved a sigh of relief when she finally calmed me down enough to get me into bed that night, but was awoken a short time later by my literally screaming in my sleep. This was around the same time that my father attempted to take me to see Ghostbusters on the big screen and I was so freaked out by the first few scenes that I crawled onto the floor and cried until he took me home.

My friend Anne, meanwhile, suffered none of these same terrors. In the constant back and forth between our neighboring houses, we spent a lot of time admiring and/or reading one anothers’ books, which in her case included such titles as IT by Stephen King and The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. Curious and determined to overcome my scaredy-cat status, I recall reading about 5 pages of IT on one occasion, and several short sections of The Amityville Horror on another. Those few minutes with each book seem to have etched permanent images into my brain, as I can still vividly recall the content of those pages.

When it came to gore and horror I was (and sometimes think I still am) a complete wuss. But if you removed most of the references to blood and guts and gave me a spooky thriller, I was in seventh heaven. I read all of John Bellairs‘s books and throughly enjoyed their spine-tingling thrills. Each book found its hapless child victim (Johnny Dixon or Lewis Barnavelt or Anthony Monday or Rose Rita) at the mercy of some blackly magical doings, but they were decidedly more suspense than gore, more mystery than horror. THESE were books that scared me in a way that I actually enjoyed.

Halloween often makes me think about my childhood experiences with scary stories — both those I liked AND those I didn’t. What about you? What books or tales did you LOVE to be scared by, and which were just too Halloween-like to handle?

28 thoughts on “What Books Scared You?

  1. Jes Z

    I love horror movies and horror novels! I discovered Stephen King at 14. The Shining scared me to death. During one particularly terrifying scene (where the topiaries come to life) my older brother rushed up shouting “redrum! redrum!” I screamed and the book went flying. Still love that book… and my brother too. haha

  2. Randi

    I love John Bellairs! And I was frightened by the movie, The Watcher in the Woods. But my favorite scary childhood book was a story of a white dog who investigates a haunted house only to find that two kittens trapped in a dumbwaiter were the “ghosts.” I wish I could remember the title!

  3. teacherninja

    The only book that ever really scared me: I remember vividly being in our school library when I was in 5th grade and discovering a book about the holocaust. With pictures. Never heard of it before and it messed me up big time. I was like: PEOPLE did this? To each other? I’ve seen many scary movies and read many horror novels, but nothing ever gave me the deep-down willies as bad as those grainy black and white photos of body-laden carts. Maybe some will think it shouldn’t have been in an elementary library, but I’m glad it was. I was kind of miffed I’d never heard of that stuff before. I don’t think school should be a reality-free zone.

  4. Azure

    I’ve always been a horror junkie, and when I was little the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” books were some of the few that could truly scare me. The stories were pretty standard campfire ghost stories and urban legends, but the illustrations gave me chills, and the combination of the two was nightmare-inducing. I remember my mom hated it when I borrowed one of those books from a friend, because I would usually get too scared to sleep if it was in the same room with me at night. I guess I half believed the illustrations would crawl off the page and come after me in the dark. Of course, that didn’t remotely cure me of my love for horror stories — I still can’t resist them!

  5. kidzbkcrusader

    Salem’s Lot by Stephen King and believe it or not, The Diary of Anne Frank. Anne Frank’s book was a mandatory summer reading selection when I was in elementary school. I knew how Anne’s life ended and reading her diary was too sad and overwhelming for me.

  6. Erin Black

    My dad read Roald Dahl’s The Witches to me when I was 5 or 6, and it scared me silly. I love it now, but am still always slightly suspicious of people with square-toed shoes.

  7. Marcia

    When my children were young I read aloud to them daily. We read chapter books. While reading House with the Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs I found myself really scared. I had such chills down my back I had to stop reading. My kids were scared, too. But I was shocked at myself. After all, it’s a book for kids! We picked it back up and finished it a couple of days later. This is fun to remember (it was at least 25 years ago) and we were deliciously frightened!

  8. Reader

    Any vampire story would scare me to death–and leave me with nightmares–but I LOVED them!! Any black and white horror film send shivers down my spine. And every year I have to watch the best horror/slasher flick of all time, the original Halloween!

  9. Jay Asher

    Actually, I didn’t write The Amityville Horror. That was Jay Anson. I wrote Thirteen Reasons Why (which is also kind of scary…but they’ve yet to make it into a movie with a ton of sequels or TV spin-offs). And I’m going to second Azure’s choice. The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series was HUGE when I was in school. No sleepover was ever complete without one.

  10. ShelfTalker

    Jay Asher, How embarrassing! I’m SO sorry. That was a terrible slip on my part, but it shows that YOUR name is more familiar to me these days than Anson’s is, which is good news, I hope! I’ve gone in and fixed that mistake in the post.

  11. BookHer

    I grew up loving scary stories and movies (still do). R.L. Stine made my childhood reading experience phenomenal with Goosebumps and when those weren’t scary enough, Fear Street. I gobbled up every Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark by Schwartz (and any other scary stories collection I could get my hands on). I can remember having a middle school reading class where I discovered Joan Lowery Nixon and Caroline Cooney. And finally, discovering Stephen King in my young teen years was my ultimate delight. My mom used to tease me that she was surprised that I turned out so well considering what I wanted to read and watch.

  12. paul takushi

    Up to the age of nine, the scariest books for me were those B&W doll photo books by Dare Wright. They filled me with unending angst and malaise whenever my older sisters would pull them out. What a weird coincidence that Jay Asher left a comment. I just started 13 Reason Why and it’s kinda creepin’ me out.

  13. k.patch

    I didn’t find many things really scary in my childhood reading. For some reason, though, the book the Christmas Killer by Patricia Windsor freaked me out when I read it in junior high. Possibly it was finishing it at 2 in the morning when I was home alone that did the scaring. hmmmm.

  14. Texas Librarians

    The Christmas Killer is probably one of the scariest YA novels! I was always freaked out by my parents reading of James Whitcomb Riley’s poem “Little Orphant Annie”, cause the goblins ‘ill git ya if you don’t watch out!

  15. Sarah

    When I was a kindergartener I thought that ‘Little Orphant Annie’ was about _me_! “And they snatched her through the ceilin’, fore she knowed what she’s about!” I blanched dead pale. “Where did they take me?” I whispered.

  16. Abigail

    Oh, I’m a total wuss about scary. In fact, you’re the first person I’ve heard who also got Ghostbusters-inspired nightmares. 🙂 So it’s probably not surprising that I don’t have much in the way of scary books on my shelf or in my memory. I did like one, Behind the Attic Wall, I think it was called. Not a classic by any means. On the other hand, L.M. Montgomery had a few preternatural events in her books, and I was definitely freaked out on a few occasions with the Emily books, all of which are among my all-time favorites. But, yeah, using those puts me solidly in the wimp category.

  17. Rdr 1

    Although I LOVED them, The Shining and Cujo rank right up there as scariest books (way scarier than their movies). When I was little, I had a record that had scary stories on it, and one of them was about a pair of green pants without a body. Can’t remember the name, but the story terrified me…but not so much that I didn’t listen to it over and over:) As for movies, THEM, a black & white movie about giant ants, and a tarantula movie starring William Shatner (can’t remember the name), were the 2 I remember cowering behind the couch while watching.

  18. Noa Wheeler

    The Dollhouse Murders scared the heck out of me as a kid (so I read it a million times), as did several other things by Betty Ren Wright. There was one where a ghost pushes someone in a wheelchair down the stairs–maybe A Ghost in the House? Ack! Also a book called Dreadful Sorry by Kathryn Reiss and The View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts. And as a beginning reader, I was a big fan of the story about Jenny and the green ribbon in In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories. As an adult, The Haunting of Hill House gave me nightmares, and all the stories in Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan (especially the one about the Mujina) gave me the delicious shivers!

  19. alvina

    I was a Stephen King junkie, but don’t remember any of the books actually scaring me, except for one short story (can’t remember the title of the book it was in) about a man who one day discovered rows of lots of tiny eyes on his hand that speak to him. That really freaked me out. Robocop really scared me, especially the scene where the guy gets washed in acid and starts melting. Ack!!

  20. KLReed

    The boy who drew cats! Yikes. I love scary stuff. Shirley Jackson We Have Always Lived in the Castle. There was also a big about a live-in babysitter who gets tortured and murdered by her charges. And a book about a house of scary pigeon ladies. Or maybe that was a dream. Love love love the scary stuff. Stephen King came later…

  21. Bethany

    When I was in 3rd grade or so, I read Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders. It terrified me. I couldn’t finish the book, I couldn’t sleep–eventually, my grandmother sat with me in a well-lit room while I finished it.

  22. Flu-Bird

    The scarists story i ever read was in a CHILD CRAFT it was called THE MONSTERS GRAVE a father relates this story of this terrible person who would ambush and murder travelers at night but the villagers captured and hung him and how on certian nights he would stick his leg out of his grave with a green stocking and one of the scarists poems is the one titled SOMEONE by WALTER DeLAMARE and A CHRISTMAS CAROL by CHARLES DICKENS is spooky when the ghost of JACOB MARLEY appears to SCROOGE


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