Illustrated Horror Stories for Kids: A ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ Lineage

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The Thing at the Foot of the Bed and Other Scary Tales — Maria Leach, illustrated by Kurt Werth (1959)

This book was a touchstone for Alvin Schwartz in writing his Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. It features many of the same urban legends he would go on to include in his booksspecifically, a cemetery dare, ghostly hitchhikers, body parts falling down chimneys, departed souls seeking lost possessions, and even a killer in the back seat.

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Monster Tales — edited by Roger Elwood, illustrated by Franz Altschuler (1973)

Monster Tales and its 1974 sequel Horror Tales read more like The Hardy Boys meet The Brothers Grimm. Most curiously, the introduction to this book was written by Robert Bloch (best known for writing Psycho) and it certainly feels like it could have been the inspiration for each of Alvin Schwartz’s introductions in the Scary Stories series. “Precious Bodily Fluids” and “The Vrolak” are fun stories with fantastic illustrations.

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Ghosts — Seymour Simon, illustrated by Stephen Gammell (1976)

This book has had a long shelf life. It is one of the Eerie Series — nonfiction books describing historical encounters with ghosts, monsters, and aliens. I remember it fondly in my elementary school library in the early ’90s. My boys regularly borrow it from our local library, though the newest version is missing Gammell’s drawings. I guess creepy babies in coffins is a harder sell in the 21st Century.

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark — Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell (1981)

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Schwartz is known as a modern folklore populist for good reason. Since Maria Leach’s The Thing at the Foot of the Bed, no other author had attempted to encourage storytelling in kids. The tales are short and memorable, and Schwartz gives tips on how the stories should be performed. I’m glad I heard these stories from a friend (in a dark, dark closet) before reading them, or seeing Gammell’s unbelievable illustrations. As a kid, you get caught up in the illustrations because they’re so garish, so unlike anything you’ve ever seen. You miss out on the full experience if you never hear the stories performed by someone your own age.

Esteban and the Ghost — Sibyl Hancock, illustrated by Dirk Zimmer (1983)

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The artwork will seem familiar to fans of Alvin Schwartz. The story should too. It’s about a man who was dared to stay the night in a haunted castle. Everyone else who took the challenge died of fright. Esteban begins hearing noises coming from the chimney, body parts tumble out of the fireplace, then he finally encounters the ghost…

In a Dark, Dark Room/More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark — Alvin Schwartz, Illustrated by Dirk Zimmer/Stephen Gammell (1984)

Most kids first encountered Alvin Schwartz through his I Can Read entry: In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories. Tales like “The Green Ribbon” and “The Teeth” were memorable and frightening for a young reader, and could’ve easily been in the second installment in the Scary Stories series.

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More Scary Stories ups the ante by instructing children in the practice of spirit conjuring with “A Ghost in the Mirror.” As long as there are mirrors in bathrooms, Bloody Mary will be with us for the rest of our lives.

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America’s Very Own Ghosts — Daniel Cohen, illustrated by Alix Berenzy (1985)

There are some American ghosts present in this collection of tales, such as Lincoln, Edison, and Houdini. But its strengths lie within its location haunts like “The Bell Witch” of Tennessee, and “Black Aggie” of Maryland.

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When the Lights Go Out: 20 Scary Tales to Tell — Margaret Read MacDonald, illustrations by Roxane Murphy (1988)

This is actually a sequel of sorts to MacDonald’s Twenty Tellable Tales (1986). Both books are clearly inspired by Shel Silverstein’s poetry books and the Scary Stories series, but aren’t meant to be frightening, and focus on the sillier elements of storytelling.

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Halloween Poems — selected by Myra Cohn Livingston, illustrated by Stephen Gammell (1989)

In the midst of his Scary Stories tenure, Gammell illustrated the heck out of 18 Halloween inspired poems. The poetry is forgettable, and it almost seems a waste of Gammell’s talent for the macabre, which he certainly delivers.

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If You Want to Scare YourselfAngela Sommer-Bodenburg, illustrated by Helga Spiess (1989)

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This book’s a hidden gem. Five original tales, originally published in German in 1984. It was a Scholastic release, but quickly got drowned out by the glut of elementaryage horror releases following the success of the Scary Stories and Fear Street books.

World’s Strangest “True” Ghost Stories — John Macklin, illustrated by Elise Chanowitz (1990)

The text is from Macklin’s 1967 release Strange and Uncanny, and the stories are ‘true’ in the sense that America’s Very Own Ghosts is ‘true.’ This version of the book is illustrated and did well enough to warrant a sequel in 1994. There are some familiar topics, such as the vanishing hitchhiker/lady in the white, a murderous car, and a phantom pirate. But the text was written long before the Scary Stories craze and there are some genuine American legends that I promise you’ve never heard before.

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Scary Stories 3 — Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell (1991)

The stories are longer, and Schwartz is at his most gruesome (see “Harold” and “The Red Spot.”) No longer are there instructions for performing the tales. The following year (only months after Schwartz’s death) would see the first Goosebumps release, which would change the face of elementary school reading — favoring chapter books, no illustrations, toneddown gore and much less violence. It’s interesting to think about what the next iteration of Scary Stories might have looked like. Would Schwartz have attempted a kid’s horror novel? R.L. Stine is a fan of the Scary Stories series. I can only imagine how much fun a hybrid Goosebumps/Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark style series might have looked like — and certainly illustrated by Stephen Gammell.

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Scary Stories 3 was Gammell’s last iteration of his most beloved drawing style.

Grimm’s Grimmest — Arranged by Maria Tatar, illustrated by Tracy Arah Dockray (1997)

A solid collection of the goriest of Grimm’s fairy tales. The interior illustrations and choice of material remind me most of Elwood’s Monster Tales, while Professor Tatar offers a more interesting taste of classic folklore than many of her predecessors.

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Nightmare Soup — Jake Tri, illustrated by Andy Sciazko (2016)

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25 years passed before there was an illustrated collection of spook stories that even came close to the style of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Which might speak more to the reach and influence of the Goosebumps and Harry Potter franchises. Nightmare Soup and its sequel, Nightmare Soup 2: The Second Helping, hit the tone and style of Schwartz and Gammell wonderfully. The stories have enough edge to keep 10- to 12-year-olds interested, without the confusing depth or vulgarity of contemporary horror and creepypasta. There are many illustrated books of horror stories that have come out following Tri and Sciazko’s first publication, but none are as accessible to that 10- to 12-year-old audience as the Nightmare Soup series.

Joe Sullivan is co-author of Corpse Cold: New American Folklore and Resurrection High.

Tales From Valleyview Cemetery

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ValleyviewCemetery_Final_CoverWelcome to Valleyview, where bodies lie buried but an ancient curse never sleeps. A father hears strange voices on his daughter’s baby monitor. A trio of gravediggers faces a swarm of supernatural creatures. A group of teenagers puts a mausoleum legend to the test. A husband and wife take a stroll through a corn maze that they’ll never forget.

Tales From Valleyview Cemetery contains seventeen interconnected tales of terror — legends of a town and cemetery entrenched in occult practice, macabre history, and a demon elemental waiting for his people’s return.

Here’s what some critics and people have had to say about TFVVC:

“Full of suspense, unpredictable plots and the thrill of wondering what will happen next, I loved this book.” — Genuine Jenn

‘These are the types of tales to be told around a campfire at night or at a sleepover. In fact, I think they’re perfect for those types of scenarios.” — Horror After Dark

“This isn’t your typical anthology. It was fascinating to see how all of the short stories were connected to each other. I liked the fact that I got to experience the same places and people from different points of view.” — Long and Short Reviews

“A great trip down nostalgia lane. Classic horror at its best. Ill definitely keep an eye out for others by this author.” — Amazon reviewer

“I was happy to read every short story in this collection and as a whole, my advice is not to go into that place. From zombies, ghosts, demons and human sacrifice it’s got it all and more.” — Amazon reviewer

Purchase your copy at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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At The Cemetery Gates: Year One

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cemeterygatesone_final_coverTwin brothers enter a funeral parlor as a gag and end up uncovering a sinister operation.

A mysterious illness plagues a small town and a college student seems to be the only one trying to stop it.

A girl’s time-lapse photo project reveals an intruder from the cemetery that shares a fence with her backyard.

At The Cemetery Gates: Year One is for fans of urban legends, manifestations of the macabre, and strange twists of fate. It is a horror/paranormal short story collection inspired by urban legends, folk tales, and anthology TV shows like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?

Here’s what some critics and people have had to say about ATCGYO:

“I’d heartily recommend At The Cemetery Gates to readers who want a little something to nibble on before bed each night…” — Horror-Writers.Net

“I grew up loving those Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark short story anthologies, and I think that At the Cemetery Gates captures that classic horror story vibe and urban legend type atmosphere while still being completely unique and original.” — Rebecca McNutt, top Goodreads reviewer

“They each are the perfect length to read if you’re reading on a trip and in need of a quick, creepy read before bed, for campfire tales, or even for your own personal enjoyment.” — Charmed Haven Book Reviews

Purchase your copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Add the book to your Goodreads.

 

Carol for a Haunted Man

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As some authors dream into the history of their town or city, Jacob Martin sought to reestablish the comforts of his childhood by moving back to the street where he grew up. Lost in life, newly divorced, and separated from his three young kids, Jacob is driven to write a book worth remembering, as a way of giving his life a new lasting purpose and meaning.

Finding himself at a standstill on the novel, a lonely recluse during the holidays, Jacob manages to connect with an attractive woman, and befriend an older man from his distant past, an author like himself. As Jacob soon discovers, nostalgia can be a healthy distraction, or it can be the noose by which one hangs.

Carol for a Haunted Man is the tale of a daunted man’s will to succeed in the face of despair, inspired by, and in homage to, the Christmas stories of Charles Dickens.

Here’s what people are saying about CFAHM:

“A read designed to harken back to the holiday stories of Charles Dickens, this novella is a really engaging, strange tale that both grabs the dark side of writing as well as gives a cautionary tone for dwelling too much on things that we can no longer control.” — Goodreads reviewer

“Carol for a Haunted Man turns out to be full of creative surprises as it continues, and the story itself is very Twilight Zoneish (I found myself thinking several times back to the original black-and-white television series), so if you’re like me and you like that classic style of eerie story but you also like the cheerful themes of Christmas, you’ll definitely want to read this. I really enjoyed its imagination, its unique characters and its original style of holiday story. This book is not only slightly spooky, but also deeply inspirational and one that everyone should add to their ‘to-read’ list.” — Amazon reviewer

Purchase your copy at Amazon!

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Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop

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Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop is a thrilling paranormal fantasy novel revolving around a mysterious shop owner and his shop full of hexed antiques.

Retired stage magician Dr. Marvelry prefers to stock his antique store with strange and occult items. He has always enjoyed meeting odd people and hearing their stories, the legends attached to mysterious objects. A phonograph that seemingly replays a tragedy. Fertility dolls that are more than decoration. A bedeviled mannequin. These are just some of the relics this eccentric shopkeeper has collected over the years.

No two customers will have the same experience in his curiosity shop — some walk away satisfied, others are never heard from again. But one thing is certain – when you purchase an item at this store, you often get more than what you paid for.

Follow Marvelry and his hexed objects through twelve tales of suspense, magic, terror, and transformation. Meet his new assistant, fellow illusionists, and some irregular characters along the way. Whatever macabre artifact of the human psyche you’re seeking – you’ll find something special in Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop.

Here’s what some reviewers have had to say about MCS:

“Please, invest a bit of time into reading this book and let it cast its spell upon you, because a marvellous feast of fantastic storytelling awaits you when you open its covers.” — Risingshadow.net

“I truly enjoyed this book and I would recommend to anyone who likes science fiction, occult, fantasy and, of course, all fans of modern horror..” — Fans of Modern Horror

“A delightfully entertaining paranormal, supernatural, magical set of vignettes, tied inextricably to the illustrious Dr. Marvelry, and his gently eccentric boutique, Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop, a bastion of antiques and occult marvels in New York State, owned by an acclaimed former magician.” — The Haunted Reading Room

Purchase your copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Add the book to your GoodReads.

Corpse Cold: New American Folklore

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Corpse Cold: New American Folklore is a collection of 20 horror stories with 30+ illustrations inspired by folklore and urban legends.

Fans of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series will enjoy the gruesome art and creepy stories. But be warned — these stories and illustrations are for mature readers. Each story is accompanied by macabre illustrations from the mind of Chad Wehrle

“…there’s something wonderfully nostalgic and charming about Corpse Cold,” — Rebecca McNutt, top Goodreads reviewer

“I would recommend this book to any horror fans looking for a fun read, particularly those who love creepypasta and other similar internet memes.” –– The Shades of Orange YouTube channel

“Corpse Cold had a good variety of stories and was a fun read. If you like urban legends then you’ll probably like this collection.” — The Scary Reviews

Read “Switches,” a sample story from Corpse Cold.

Order your copy via Amazon!

Can’t get enough of the artwork? We also have sets of tarot-size trading cards featuring illustrations from Corpse Cold available!

 

Her Mourning Portrait and Other Paranormal Oddities

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Her Mourning Portrait and Other Paranormal Oddities is the fifth anthology from Brhel & Sullivan. It is a collection of dark fantasy stories which focuses on the interplay between the euphoric and lamentable moments of romantic commitments. These ten tales are light romances, which take turns through various fantasy subgenres such as science fiction, the paranormal, the occult and the weird.

Such tales include: “Lady of Cayuga Lake,” which recounts the last hurrah of a separating husband and wife, a final vacation which takes a turn toward the paranormal when they both spy a ghost over the lake. Will they have what it takes to work together, confide in each other, and solve the mysterious disappearance of Mary Gold?

“The Lost Cache” tells of the strain an obsessive hobby can have on a marriage. Hillary appears to give Eric every chance to engage her, and work his way back toward an intimate companionship, even going so far as to plan out a special evening of hiking and geocaching in an old cemetery with her husband.

“Side by Side” is a quirky cemetery tale about a confrontation between a long-dead man and his widow’s second husband, regarding the final resting place of their beloved-in-common.

“Her, He, and a Corpse Makes Three” focuses on a love triangle between a living couple who work in a funeral home, and the woman’s recently deceased, yet spiritually returned ex-boyfriend.

Here’s what some critics and people have had to say about HMP:

“This is my favorite work of Brhel & Sullivan’s yet. The stories- all of which are short- all have fantastic twists to them that really rev up the vibe; just when you think they’re coming to a nice, neat ending, something off-kilter pops up, and the story flies off again. I’m such of a fan of the writing style and overall work- I think these collaborators get better with each new work.” — Melody, Goodreads reviewer

“The stories here are also heartfelt and tender, offering insightful ideas about relationships and love. And not only that, but there are quite a few references to Brhel and Sullivan’s other works, weaving the stories into a tight universal knot… a very smart move considering the world’s current obsession with fictional universes.” — Cameron Chaney, BookTuber

“As always, these authors write interesting stories with a twist. This was a fun, fast and entertaining read!” — Kat Loves Books

Purchase your copy at Amazon!

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