Start ’em Young: 7 Gothic Tales for Children  

Written By Rachael Conrad

Rachael Conrad is an award-winning indie bookseller with over a decade of experience in the industry. When she's not reading or writing Rachael can often be found exploring the woods and tide pools of Maine and discussing who the best Chris is (it's Pine, obviously). Her writing can be found in Tor/Reactor, Polygon, and Kirkus Reviews."

Adult readers aren’t the only ones who can enjoy gothic literature. There are dozens of books that have been written for children from the age of 0-10 and beyond, with stories that range from macabre alphabet books to talking skulls. They’re all equally delightful and can be enjoyed by more mature readers as well. Who wouldn’t love a tale about a vampire rabbit? 

Below you’ll find 7 gothic titles for younger readers to cut their teeth on. 

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

Written and illustrated by Edward Gorey, one of the kings of gothic literature himself, The Gashlycrumb Tinies is the most delightfully morbid alphabet book you’ll ever find. 

The Gashleycrumb Tinies tells the story of 26 children, each one representing a letter of the alphabet, and their untimely, shocking, and often very violent deaths. Despite its macabre content, Gashlycrumb Tinies is incredibly entertaining as it’s written in rhyming couplets and paired with Gorey’s signature black and white sketches. 

The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs

When it comes to gothic literature for young readers, it’s hard to beat John Bellairs and the first book in his beloved Lewis Barnavelt series, The House with a Clock in its Walls. It also falls into one of my personal favorite subgenres of horror fiction and gothic literature: There’s something weird about this house. 

Lewis Barnavelt is thrilled when he finds out that his uncle, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman, are magicians by trade. Who wouldn’t be? But when Lewis decides to try magic for himself, he accidentally brings the former owner of his uncle’s house, Selenna Izard, back from the dead. 

Godfather Death by Sally Nicholls

Paired with Júlia Sarda’s gorgeous illustrations, Sally Nicholls’s interpretation of Godfather Death, one of the lesser known Grimm tales, will take your breath away. Like many fairy tales, this is not a soft, sweet bedtime story, but a haunting cautionary tale. 

When a fisherman decides to make Death his son’s godfather, he thinks he’s being incredibly clever. While at the christening, Death gives the fisherman and his son an unexpected gift that leads their family to equally unexpected wealth, but greed soon takes the fisherman on a dark path risking his and his son’s lives.

Thornhill by Pam Smy

I am, and frankly have always been, a fan of a book that is told in chapters that alternate between prose and illustrations, and Pam Smy’s novel, Thornhill, expertly checks both of those boxes. 

Thornhill tells the story of two young girls through parallel timelines. The first is Mary, an orphan at Thornhill Institute for Children whose retaliation against a bully has horrific consequences. The other is Ella, whose bedroom window has a perfect view of the long abandoned Thornhill Institution and the mysterious girl who stalks its grounds. 

Bunnicula by Deborah Howe and James Howe

A classic in every sense of the word, and positively delightful from start to finish, Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe might just be one of the best scary stories written for young readers ever. If you’re anything like me and love vampires it also happens to be a truly formative book. 

Told from the point of view of the family dog who, because his owner is a writer fancies he’s something of a writer himself, Bunnicula tells the story of Harold and his feline companion, Chester the cat. Their worlds are turned upside down when their people bring home a suspiciously silent, red eyed rabbit after finding him at a showing of Dracula at the local theater. While Harold thinks that Bunnicula is likely a normal rabbit, Chester isn’t so sure, and hijinks quickly ensue. 

The Skull by Jon Klassen

Based on a story that he discovered in a book of Tyrolean Folktales, The Skull tells the story of a tenacious young girl named Otilla who finds herself lost in the woods. After a time, she discovers a castle that appears, at least at first glance, to be abandoned. Otilla soon finds out that its one and only inhabitant is a sentient human skull, and the two quickly become friends.  

As night sets in, the Skull reveals that he is afraid of something that comes to the castle at night, and it falls to Otilla to protect them both. 

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Trust me when I tell you that The Nest by Kenneth Oppel is truly one of the best and scariest horror novels that I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the hardest to recommend, at least to adults, as it was originally written for middle grade readers. But if you’re in the mood to stay up late at night wondering what that scratching noise coming from inside your walls is, then this is the book for you. 

Steve is the kind of kid who worries. He worries about his sick baby brother who doesn’t seem to be getting any better, he worries about his parents who are struggling to take care of them both, and he especially worries about the wasp nest that has appeared outside his bedroom window. When a beautiful and ethereal woman appears in Steve’s dreams and promises that she’ll be able to fix his brother, he thinks that maybe all of his problems have been solved. But not all is as it seems and the wasp nest keeps growing larger.