Are you Brave? Discover our Spooky Reads!
Do you like scary stories? We do! Delve into our range of spooky reads, perfect for middle-grade readers (with something for younger readers thrown in too). From cosy magic to shapeshifters, monsters, ghosts and ghouls, read on to discover some of our favourite books for Halloween!
On a quest to uncover her forgotten past, Avery Buckle (part-girl, part-cat) and her shapeshifting best pal Low are plunged into a haphazard world of shadowy monsters, bewitched libraries and flying bicycles. The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle is a warm and quirky whirlwind of an adventure, full of magical heart from Kelpies Prize-winner Hannah Foley. An unmissable read!
Ruby McCracken’s life is OVER. Her parents have forced her to move to the Ordinary World and that means – new home, new school and worst of all, no magic! Seriously?! A witch without magic? That’s LITERALLY tragic. Packed with great humour, loveable characters and witty (witchy!) banter, Ruby McCracken: Tragic Without Magic is perfect for fans of Witchworld and The Worst Witch.
You’ll need to be brave to get to the end of Shadowsmith, from Blue Peter Book Award winner Ross MacKenzie. Enter a magical and unexpected world, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing! From the author of The Nowhere Emporium.
The Beginner’s Guide to Curses is the dramatic first instalment in a series brimming with brilliant magic, dark danger and extraordinary friendship from award-winning author Lari Don. Molly Drummond is cursed: whenever a dog barks, she turns into a hare – which can make life quite dangerous… So she does the sensible thing and attends a curse-lifting workshop, run by a local witch. Things only get more complicated from there…
Alex Nye’s debut novel Chill won a Scottish Children’s Book Award back in 2006 and we’re sure you won’t be able to put down this spine-tingling novel about the cursed Morton family! Trapped by snow and ice and faced by a ghostly presence, can Fiona and Samuel escape the chill or will the Morton children be doomed to repeat the past forever?
We meet Fiona and Samuel again in Alex Nye’s hair-raising sequel to Chill, when the two friends must once again confront the secrets of Dunadd House. Shiver is spooky tale about the past coming back to haunt the present…
In Dark Spell, 15-year-old Callie has found out she’s a witch and is struggling to control her power – she can set fire to things without a match, and when she’s angry people can get hurt. The most recent publication in our spooky reads list, Gill Arbuthnott’s nail-biting tale of teen witch Callie Hall was shortlisted for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2015.
Not the spookiest read on this list, but Top-Secret Grandad and Me: Death by Tumble Dryer is a whole lot of wacky murder mystery fun, and the grandad in question is… y’know, a ghost. Definitely still Halloween appropriate, this book stars detective Jay Patel and his top-secret sidekick – his ghost grandad! Can Jay and Grandad solve the first in a series of hilarious and wacky murders? Laugh-out-loud mystery series from David MacPhail, author of Thorfinn the Nicest Viking.
Looking for an engaging chapter book for emerging readers? Alan Dapre‘s Porridge the Tartan Cat and the Unfair Funfair is a great choice! Porridge the Tartan cat and twins Isla and Ross can’t wait to visit the funfair that’s just come to town – but this funfair isn’t fair at all. Riding the Howlercoaster doesn’t just turn their knees to jelly, it turns Ross into a hairy scarewolf! Dastardly Fangus McFungus is behind it all, but what exactly is he up to?
And last but not least, we have a stunning picture book from award-winning author Lari Don and illustrator Philip Longson. Set at Halloween, The Tale of Tam Linn is a traditional tale from the Scottish Borders adapted and retold for a younger audience. Legends, spells and Scottish creatures… will Janet be able to rescue Tam Linn from the evil Fairy Queen?
Ruby McCracken’s Guide to the Ordinary World
Hi! I’m Ruby McCracken, and I’m a witch. Well, I was a witch, until my parents forced us to leave our home in the magical world of Hexadonia to come and live in the Ordinary World, with NO magic! It does mean I’m now something of an expert on blending in here, so I’ve written this guide for any other Hexadonians who might want to visit!
First Things First
- Magic doesn’t work in the Ord World. Not even the Snack Spell.
- Don’t forget to convert your cash to Ord money. You’ll get some funny looks if you try to pay with bronze ingots.
- Familiars react strangely to the Ord World. Be prepared for some minor shapeshifting…
Eating and Drinking
- When going to a restaurant in the Ord World, ask WHAT’S on the menu, not WHO.
- Ords eat eggs from chickens instead of spiders, and their milk comes from cows instead of bats!
- Ords actually LIKE chocolate, and ice cream. Disgusting!
- They don’t have sandwitches in the Ord World. They have something similar called sandwiches, but they have the filling on the inside, which just doesn’t make sense.
- A Spelling Bee in the Ord World doesn’t actually involve any magic spells. Instead, they just have to say the letters of a word in the right order. So boring.
- Don’t expect to find live snakes in any Ord World board games. Their version of Snakes and Ladders is just pictures on a board. This place is so incredibly dull.
- Apparently, an orange head impaled on a stick is not an appropriate craft activity for Girl Guides.
- Ords have something called lipstick, which is like our lobestick but instead of putting it on their earlobes, they put it on – you guessed it – their lips. I mean – I can’t even…
- Hats aren’t allowed in the classroom – unless you tell your teacher you have a highly infectious disease.
- Ords actually try to prevent their teeth from rotting and falling out. They go to see someone called a “dentist” who makes their teeth white and clean. Urgh!
Making Friends with Ords
- Flowers are thought to be a good thing. Ords actually like them, and give them to each other as gifts (and they heartlessly kill weeks, if you can believe it).
- Loads of people in the Ord World are scared of really normal things like spiders, ghosts, vampires and even witches!
- Instead of normal nicknames like “Slimeball”, people call you “Honey”. Which is weird because as we all know, honey is something criminals are forced to eat in prison.
I hope your visit to the Ord World is more fun, less permanent, and less dangerous than mine!
Oh, and if you wanted to bring me some treats from the Outdoor Insect Market back in Hexadonia, I’d be eternally grateful!
Find out about Ruby’s first adventure in the Ord World in Ruby McCracken: Tragic Without Magic by Elizabeth Ezra. The perfect spooky read for Halloween!
“Why do we read scary books?”
“Why do we read scary books?” I ask the children in the school hall on my visits to talk about Shadowsmith.
“Because it’s exciting!”
“It makes us feel brave!”
“It’s scary but also fun!”
These are the usual replies.
“And what is fear?” I ask them. “Why do we get scared at all?”
They gaze thoughtfully back at me, their brains working, until they slowly raise their hands.
“It’s imagination gone wrong,” one of them speculates.
“Is it when your heart starts pounding and your blood turns cold?” another asks.
Eventually, one of the kids gives me the answer I’ve been waiting for.
“I get scared because my brain is trying to tell me something is dangerous…”
Fear is a primal instinct, one of nature’s great drivers. It exists, at the most basic level, to keep us alive. Our ancestors huddled in darkness and told stories of the monsters that lay in wait outside the cave, and today we tell tales of our own monsters. But the question remains – why? Why do we like to frighten each other? Crucially, is there a part of us that likes to be frightened?
Just this weekend, my wife and I accompanied some friends on a Halloween-themed survival game, which saw us being chased by actors dressed as zombies through a pitch-black forest in the middle of nowhere. We screamed. We ran. We clung to each other in shock whenever the zombies jumped out, slavering and screeching. We also laughed. We had fun. Why? Why would we put ourselves through this ordeal?
Just like reading a frightening book, I think it’s all to do with facing our fear. Everyone wants to be brave. But how do we know what bravery really is if we have never been scared? Fear teaches us how to be brave. So what better or safer way is there to face our terrors than in the pages of a book? After all, we can close those pages and come back to the safety of our family and our living room whenever we wish. We remain in control.
When we are children, reading a scary book from time to time helps us to understand that everyone gets scared, that sometimes bad things happen. Surely this is a good thing because it makes us better equipped for life’s journey.
Much like chickenpox, perhaps it is better to introduce our children to these aspects early on in their lives. A child who has never been exposed to fear or negative experiences will surely have a much more virulent reaction when confronted with reality later.
A nasty villain can teach us the difference between good and evil. A plot about bullying can instil the sense that “this is wrong”. Seeing that frightening baddie get his comeuppance demonstrates that the monster can be slayed whatever form it takes.
It’s also worth noting that much of the time in children’s books the big scary moment is defused by a whopping great laugh. After all, there’s often a fine line between terror and laughter.
I became a writer because of a scary book. In primary five our class read The Witches by Roald Dahl. The book’s main antagonist, The Grand High Witch is a corker of a baddie. I was frightened of her but I also saw an ordinary little boy and his grandmother stand up to her. I followed every thrilling moment of their adventure with a racing heart and my imagination lit on fire. Though the book is scary in places, the overwhelming feeling that washed over me when we reached the end was, “I want to make people feel the way I’ve just felt.”
That feeling has never gone away. It is why I write, and why I still get butterflies whenever I begin a new story. It changed my life, absolutely.
What a shame it would have been, then, had my parents thumbed through the pages of The Witches and thought, ‘He’s not reading this. It’s too scary.’
I think the schoolchildren put it best.
‘It’s scary, but it’s also fun.’
Have a sneaky peek at one of our spookiest #SpookyReads!
One of our favourite things to do when it’s cold, wet and windy outside is to curl up somewhere warm and comfortable with a good book. And with Halloween just round the corner, the spookier the better! So we thought we’d whet your appetite with a teaser from the spine-tingling Chill by Alex Nye (we attempted to read it with our eyes closed at one point – unsurprisingly it didn’t work…). Enjoy!
Samuel was alone in the house. Outside the moor lay silent, stretching away into endless emptiness. Dunadd was completely deserted. He liked it this way, having the place entirely to himself. He could almost pretend the house was his. There was an atmosphere of secrecy and silence, which grew more intense when there was no one else about. The others had all gone skiing – it was all they could think to do on the snowbound moor. The drifts were so high that the narrow winding road, which led up to the isolated Dunadd House, had become impassable.
It was so quiet. There was nothing but the sound of the wind in the trees, and the distant murmur of the Wharry Burn, water travelling and rumbling beneath ice. The whole moor was covered with snow, an ocean of unending white, waves of it packed up against the walls of the barn and cottage – the cottage where Samuel now lived.
The rooms, corridors and staircases of Dunadd House creaked all about him in the silence. Numerous empty rooms lay behind heavy oak doors.
Samuel had felt nervous as he crossed the snowy courtyard, the white tower looming above him, but he was not going to be put off. He made his way up the silent staircase to the drawing room on the first floor. The grandfather clock ticked noisily in the hall below, a deep sombre note befitting its age, like the heartbeat of the house itself; constant, regular, marking time.
On the wide landing dark wooden doors concealed their secrets from him, but ahead of him one door stood open. He made his way towards it over the polished boards and Turkish carpets. He trod softly, afraid to disturb the peace. The colours of the rugs were beautiful, tawny-red, crimson and tan-coloured, like the flanks and hide of a red deer. The walls were panelled in dark oak, and he was conscious that above and behind him lay another narrower stone staircase, leading into the tower, a place he had never before explored.
He passed shelves of books, old thumbed paperbacks, family favourites, and pushed open the door at the end. Before him lay the drawing room on the first floor, a vast expanse filled with light from the large bay windows on either side. Old pieces of antique furniture stood about in the shadows, gathering dust.
After a week of raging blizzards the moor had at last fallen silent, and sunlight sparkled and reflected from the snow outside, and reached into the dark corners of the house. Dust motes circulated slowly.
Samuel was familiar with this room. He had been here before, most memorably on Christmas Day, just over a week ago, although he preferred not to think about that right now. It only made him nervous, and he didn’t want that. He wanted to be able to explore the house, unafraid, without feeling the need to keep glancing back over his shoulder.
He advanced slowly into the centre of the room.
Near the door stood the grand piano, as expected, its lid open and ready to play. Family photographs of the widowed Mrs Morton and her three children stood on its polished surface. At the other end of the room was a massive stone fireplace, its hearth stacked with firewood, unlit at the moment. Mr Hughes would light it later when the family returned. Above the fireplace hung the mirror, framed in elaborate scrolling gilt. Samuel made a deliberate effort not to look into it. He repeatedly drew his eyes away on purpose, especially after what he had last seen there. He didn’t want that vision to disturb his dreams again.
He wanted normality, nothing unusual to happen. Or did he? Perhaps he was seeking her out again.
He walked across the drawing room to the window seat on the far side, and sat down with his back to the room. He made himself comfortable and studied the view of the mountains. It was a breathtaking panorama. The whole moor lay beneath him.
He turned his attention to the map underneath the window, a long map of the Highland line, browned with age at the edges, fixed and preserved behind glass. This is what he was here for, ostensibly, to copy the drawing of this map, so that he could have one for his own room. His bedroom in the cottage across the courtyard shared the same view. Mrs Morton had been reluctant to leave him alone in the house at first, but at last she had agreed, and now here he was.
He placed his pens and pencils on a small occasional table and dragged this into position next to him. Then he rolled out his long piece of paper, selected specially for the purpose, and pinned it down onto the table with a weight at either end to stop it from curling inwards.
The oak panelling creaked now and then in the silence, and from a long way away, if he strained his ears, Samuel could still hear the regular, soothing beat of the clock downstairs. He began to draw, his fingers moving rapidly over the paper, his back to the mirror and whatever visions it might contain.
This is an ordinary house, he told himself. It’s old and beautiful and very large, but it holds no sinister secrets. He almost believed it for a moment.
There was nothing Samuel loved more than copying maps. He liked drawings with lots of fine lines and detail. It was a gift he’d always had. Even as a small child, sitting in front of the television, he had arranged his pens and pencils in neat rows and would draw away with utter contentment for hours.
As he worked he glanced over his shoulder from time to time at the empty room behind him. The mirror over the mantelpiece remained blank, nothing moved or stirred in its silvery depths.
He stopped drawing and listened. He thought he’d heard a sound on the staircase. The empty house waited, no sound apart from the distant tick of the grandfather clock and Samuel’s own breathing. There it was again – a light tread on the stair. He decided it was probably Granny Hughes doing her dusting again, despite the fact she had been ordered to rest by Mrs Morton. She often crept about like that, duster in hand, trying to be invisible in spite of her mutterings and groanings.
He turned back to his drawing, his hand poised over the paper, and began to draw a long curving line, more slowly this time, his ear cocked for any sound outside.
Behind him the door swung slowly inwards – he could feel the draught of it at his back travelling across the room. Slowly he turned his head, but there was no one there.
Then he heard it.
It was the sound of a woman crying. It filled the room around him, permeating the walls and furniture. A bottled-up sound, trapped, as if echoing along a long dark corridor.
Samuel looked about him, spinning this way and that, but the drawing room was empty. Then he heard her footsteps. She passed through the room to the door of the library at the far end. He couldn’t see her, but he could hear her footsteps clearly, and the sound of her weeping. Then the library door closed with a bang, and he was left with a terrible silence.
He dashed across the drawing room, stumbling against the furniture in his haste. When he got to the door of the library he rattled the handle furiously, but it was locked … from the inside. He bent down and peered through the keyhole. The key was still in place. He could see nothing.
He stood up and his eye was caught by the mirror over the fireplace. It reflected back no one but himself.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” he whispered to himself. “I don’t believe in them.” There had to be a logical explanation. Think with the mind, not the heart. But his mind was telling him to run.
He fled from the drawing room leaving his pens and pencils and unfinished map scattered on the window seat. The door swung wide behind him, and he pelted down the staircase, his feet clattering against the wooden boards. He charged along the corridors to the kitchen at the end, calling out for Fiona as he went.
“Fiona? Mrs Hughes?” No one answered him. Granny Hughes was up in her room in the tower, half-asleep, an unread library book on her lap.
He ran outside onto the snow-packed lawn, and stood looking up at the windows on the first floor. The immense panes of glass were dark with shadow. Nothing could be seen in the drawing room. If he closed his eyes he could still hear the sobbing echoing inside his head. He looked all about him at the silent trees, blanketed in snow, the cold bleak hills, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mr Hughes, perhaps busy about his work, or the family returning from their skiing trip, but there was no one. He stared up at the dark mass of the house. Then he thought he saw movement in the library window to the right of the drawing room. A shadow moving, backwards and forwards … then it was gone.