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Non-gory scary stories

Many middle graders and middle schoolers like their scary books creepy… but not terrifying. The following titles fit the bill, incorporating some humor, some shivers, and a minimum of gore.

The star of John Bemelmans Marciano’s The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield comes from a long line of miscreants (“To say that the Baddenfield family had a checkered past is to insult innocent board games everywhere”). His ancestors died young, but thanks to a stem-cell transplant from a cat, Alexander has nine lives, giving him the opportunity to jump off the Empire State Building, get a python for a pet, try his hand at bullfighting, etc. Puns, anagrams, and good-natured satire abound in this sophisticated read for middle graders. Sophie Blackall’s accompanying illustrations are droll and humorously gruesome. (Viking, 8–11 years)

With a cheerfully morbid tone, Jonathan Stroud kicks off Lockwood & Co., a new series  that is part procedural, part ghost story, part caper. In The Screaming Staircase, ghosts have become the world’s worst pest infestation. Lucy and her colleagues at Lockwood & Co., a scrappy independent agency, take on a high-profile, high-paying haunting from a client who is not telling them everything. The tightly plotted tale strikes just the right balance between creepiness and hilarity. (Disney-Hyperion, 10–12 years)

Conor O’Neill, the star of Ellen Booraem’s Texting the Underworld, is a worrier. When an attractive young banshee named Ashling shows up and moves into his closet, Conor’s anxiety skyrockets. Meanwhile, Ashling, intrigued with modern culture, heads off to Conor’s middle school, with amusing results. Complex characters, a moving story line, and plenty of exciting moments make this an appealing read. (Dial, 10–12 years)

Rich Wallace retells three urban legends, setting them all in the same New Hampshire town, in Wicked Cruel. The first is a contemporary ghost story about a bullying victim; the second features drowned horses that haunt a community; the third involves five farm children who died young but who may not have left the earthly plane. Accessible and mildly creepy, the tales are varied and engaging. (Knopf, 10–12 years)

From the October 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She is a current member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.

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