It's funny how the stories that terrified us as children can still give us shivers as adults. I read Judith Stamper's Tales for the Midnight Hour to eighth and tenth graders today, and I STILL got goosebumps when I read that last line in "The Furry Collar." My dad's stories of Baba Yaga the witch--complete with his patented creepy witch laugh--still give me chills. And don't even get me started on Coraline's "mother's" black button eyes. *shudders*
The stories that truly scare us as children stay imprinted on our minds long into adulthood. It's been 30 years since my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Lucado, first read "The Ten Claws" to our class, but I remember the feeling of that story like it was yesterday. I can picture Mr. Lucado reading that last paragraph; I can still hear his voice saying, "bloody stump" all scary-like.
So every year at Halloween, I am positively giddy at the opportunity to share scary stories with my students. I love reading a story out loud and seeing my students hanging on my every word. I love slowing my speech, enunciating certain words, using my voice to increase the creep-factor as I read.
Reading scary stories aloud is as much performance as it is words on a page. So my gift to you and your students this Halloween is the memory of reading a story that the students feel. Stories that they will look back on in 30 years and remember YOUR voice saying "bloody stump" as they read these stories out loud to their own children or students.
Below, I've listed specific passages that make excellent Halloween read-alouds. These 13 short stories, picture books, and novels are widely available (except for one that I HAD to include) and probably in your own school libraries. Choose a passage and practice reading it aloud. Use your voice to give your students an experience, not just a story.
10 Creepy Read-Alouds for Middle Schoolers
|Short and Shivery: 30 Chilling Tales (Robert D. San Souci)|
These short stories have been Halloween favorites in my libraries for years. They have also been around awhile; I used to read them aloud to my students when I taught 7th grade, nearly 15 years ago. Each story is only a few pages long, and many of them include illustrations. It includes creepy folktales and legends from around the world, including short stories by the Brothers Grimm and Washington Irving. And how great is that new front cover?!
|The Spider and the Fly (Mary Howitt, Tony DiTerlizzi)|
Ironically, I got the idea for this one while my son was watching Power Rangers in Space tonight. Would you believe one of the bad guys actually quoted this poem? Seriously! In this gorgeous black-and-white picture book, a hungry spider tries to lure a naive fly into his web. This poem has been around since 1829 and serves up a not-so-subtle warning to readers: If you are charmed by "idle, silly, flattering words," you could end up as a nasty spider's dinner.
This one is on sale on Amazon right now! I totally did not plan that, but it's a nice coincidence! If you buy the Kindle edition, you could show the images to the whole class on a TV or through a computer projector.
|Rot & Ruin (Jonathan Maberry)|
If you want something for your slightly older middle schoolers, you can't go wrong with Jonathan Maberry's zombie saga, Rot & Ruin. Considering the popularity of The Walking Dead, this one will easily capture the attention of those students who like their scary books served up with a side of blood and gore. Rot & Ruin is a five-book series with a few novellas mixed in. It tells the story of Benny Imura, a teen boy tasked to work with his older brother Tom as a zombie bounty-hunter in a post-zombie-apocalypse world. If you think zombie novels can't be well-written, character driven stories, think again.
|The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)|
A very young boy escapes the mysterious man who murdered his family. He crawls right out the front door and into a local cemetery. There, the ghosts protect the toddler from the murderer by making the boy invisible. Many years later, the baby boy is a teen who lives among the ghosts in the graveyard. But his family's murderer is still out there, looking for the boy who somehow managed to get away. This one is also available as a two-part graphic novel.
What to read aloud: The murder scene in the first chapter. It's a grisly scene, so I would suggest checking to make sure no one in your class has had a close family member murdered. I've had two students who did have a parent murdered (that I knew about), as well as a girl on my basketball team growing up. It does happen, and we may not always know about it. Your school counselor will likely know, and I strongly recommend you check before reading this scene aloud.
|The Crossroads (Chris Grabenstein)|
I'm actually reading this one on audio right now, and I just listened to this section tonight on the way home from school. In the beginning, The Crossroads features seemingly-unrelated chapters, but they start to come together at Chapter 4. The Goodreads description is a very good one:
ZACK, HIS DAD, and new stepmother have just moved back to his father’s hometown, not knowing that their new house has a dark history. Fifty years ago, a crazed killer caused an accident at the nearby crossroads that took 40 innocent lives.
What to read aloud: I would read either the Prologue or the first chapter. The Prologue describes young Zack's fear of a knotty old tree in New York City. Zack is certain he can see a face in the tree, the face of something inside the tree wanting to come out and kill him. It seems no one else sees the face, not Zack's dad nor the school librarian whose college degree is in theology. But the face is there, nonetheless.
The first chapter is a plumber's perspective. The plumber is working on installing a toilet in a brand-new, unoccupied home. The toilet is messed up and keeps bringing up bits of tree branches when it is flushed. The plumber gives up and starts to drive home. On the way, he barely avoids a car accident when a police officer stops him from running a broken red light. When he looks closely at the police officer, he discovers that the man has no face.
The two stories come together because Zack and his family move into the house the plumber was working on. The tree bits are from the tree with the killer's spirit inside, which happens to be in Zack's new backyard.
Chapter six could also be a stand-alone. Read that one aloud if you are looking for a vanishing hitchhiker story.
(This one is also priced to sell for Halloween 2016!)
|Tales for the Midnight Hour (Judith Stamper)|
It looks like this book may be out of print, but if you can get your hands on a copy, it's a must-read with middle schoolers. My fifth grade teacher read these aloud while my class had ice cream time after lunch, and some of them scared the absolute crap out of me. I would go home and tell them to my sister (poor thing was only in third grade when I told her these stories), and she still remembers them today. I was able to find the book on Scholastic's website. You can also find PDF versions online, but there are lots of formatting and spelling errors in those, and I'd bet money they are illegally distributed. The book is also available through OpenLibrary.org, but when I downloaded the Adobe Digital Editions version, I got a Jimmy Buffett book instead.
If you want something less intense, go with "The Boarder," "The Jigsaw Puzzle," or possibly "The Velvet Ribbon." "The Velvet Ribbon is maybe a little more scary than the other two.
If you want something that is guaranteed not to scare anyone, I wouldn't read these stories. They are awesomely creeptastic!
|Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave (Marianna Mayer)|
It's the house on chicken legs that gets me the most with this one. That, and my dad's crazy witch laugh when he would terrify my sisters and me with Baba Yaga stories when we were kids. Baba Yaga is a witch in Slavic folklore. She lives in a house with chicken legs (!) that can run around (!) and flies through the air inside a mortar and pestle. She has iron teeth. IRON TEETH, people!
|Skeleton Man (Joseph Bruchac)|
Because this title has been around awhile, chances are good that you may have this book in your library. If not, it's priced just right on Kindle during October 2016. This is the story of Molly, a young girl whose parents have gone missing. Child Services have temporarily placed her in the care of her mysterious uncle, but Molly keeps dreaming of the Skeleton Man stories her parents told her when she was young. What are the dreams trying to tell her?
|The Wolves in the Walls (Neil Gaiman)|
Looking for something a little creepy, but definitely not-so-scary? This picture book from Neil Gaiman is a great choice for younger students or your less Halloween-friendly audiences (Yup, I'm from Texas--I know all about those). In this story, little Lucy hears strange noises coming from the walls. She warns her family that the wolves are about to come out of the walls, but no one listens to her. No one believes her. They are all too consumed with their own interests. So when the wolves actually DO come out of the walls, only Lucy can help her family get the wolves out of their house.
What to read aloud: It's a picture book, and it's short enough to be read in about 15 minutes. Gorgeous and creepy illustrations with lots and lots of onomatopoeia in the text. Because the family accuses Lucy of lying, this would pair well with The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Is your voice too cheerful to pull off a creepy read-aloud? Be sure to check out the audiobook sale on The Wolves in the Walls! It's a great price right now and would be fabulous to play on Halloween!
|"The Monkey's Paw" (W.W. Jacobs)|
When I was in ninth grade, we went to a theatre performance of five different short stories. One of those stories was "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs. I can still remember the final scene with the loud knocking at the door and the mother scrambling to find the monkey's paw before whatever is outside gets inside. This story is a great way to teach your students to be careful what they wish for...