Perhaps you were just an innocent 10-year-old, minding your own business in the school library the first time you stumbled upon Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, or Roald Dahl’s The Witches.
Oh, this book looks pretty scary, I’m not sure what mom will think of this . . . you may have said to yourself . . . but wait! It’s intended for young readers! Well, it can’t be that terrifying, then, can it?
Joke’s on you, kid! Consider yourself scarred for life. Twenty years later you’re still cowering in the corner at any mention of Scary Stories … and Flowers in the Attic? Forget it! We’ve compiled a list and ranked of some of the most disturbing children’s books that were ever committed to paper and have haunted us up through adolescence and young adulthood. On a scale of one, eh, not that scary, to 10, OK NOT COOL I’M OUT, the lowest rating on this list is a five. So you’ve been warned.
What other books would you add to this creepy list? That is, if you can handle it.
“The Little Match Girl” from A Book of Fairy Tales, by Hans Christian Andersen
Fairy tales are often the result of years and years of oral and folk traditions, so it isn’t surprising when they pop-up in contemporary literature, television, musicals, or film. But actually sitting down and re-reading the original source material can sometimes be a shock, as is certainly the case with Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. Originally published in 1845, “The Little Match Girl” tells the story of a little girl dying of hypothermia, trying to keep herself warm by the light of a match. Yeesh. Upsetting factor: 9
“Hansel and Gretel” from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, by the Brothers Grimm
Everyone knows the story of Hansel and Gretel, the two greedy children who stumble upon a house made of candy and the witch who lives inside. In contemporary adaptations, the story has been used as analogy about minding your own business, private property, and the dangers of gluttony. But in the original story, Gretel pushes the witch into her own oven, frees her brother, and the two make off with the witch’s wealth. Not sure what the message is here. Upsetting factor: 5
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz
To truly understand the horror that is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, you must get your hands on a copy of the original three-volume series with illustrations by Stephen Gammell. For those of us who were traumatized by these terrifying (and oftentimes graphically violent) stories as a child, you only have to say the title of the book to be taken back to that time when you were 10, trying to turn the page without having this image burned into your cerebral cortex. We’re still recuperating. Upsetting factor: 11
The Witches, by Roald Dahl
If there’s anything scarier than a witch, it’s a hotel full of witches who are stark bald and eat children for fun. Seriously Roald Dahl? Not cool. Upsetting factor: 10
Say Cheese and Die, from the Goosebumps seriesby R.L. Stine
Anyone who came of age in the 90s knows the glory that is Goosebumps. Though they all have their individual charms, the fourth book in the series, Say Cheese and Die!, takes a totally harmless object like a camera and turns it into an instrument of death and destruction. Oy. Upsetting factor: 7
Wait Til Helen Comes, by Mary Downing Hahn
This terrifying novel for young readers about a ghost named Helen, who is determined to take a friend to the other side, was published in 1987. Its frank discussion of suicide has made it a controversial choice for children’s libraries. Upsetting factor: 8
A Watcher in the Woods, by Florence Engel Randall
Jan’s family gets a great deal on a house in the woods, but all is not well. She senses that there is someone “watching” her and her family, and is determined to find out the story behind some strange disappearances in the woods years ago. The book was adapted into a successful (and scarring) Disney version in 1980, starring none other than Bette Davis as the mysterious Mrs. Alywood. Upsetting factor: 6
Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews
The world could easily be divided into two groups of people: those of us who read V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic when we were still in grade school and were forever scarred by it, and those lucky few who did not. The novel tells the story of siblings who are locked in the attic by their crazy mother and have to result to eating raw mice to survive. As if that weren’t enough, Andrews throws some incest in there for good measure. Upsetting factor: 10
Outside Over There, by Maurice Sendak
This illustrated children’s book by Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak tells the story of a young girl who must rescue her baby sister when she is STOLEN BY GOBLINS and is replaced with a creepy ice sculpture. What? Why? Upsetting factor: 8
Jumanji, by Chris van Allsburg
Many know Jumanji from its 1995 film adaptation starring the late great Robin Williams. On top of the idea of a board game coming alive, complete with wild stampedes, poison dart throwing plants, and destructive monkeys, is terrifying enough. But even more disturbing is the story of Peter, who’s been trapped inside the game for years, completely missing out on his childhood. Upsetting factor: 9