Top 10 Scary Stories for Kids

Kids love scary stories. Below are ten of the best.

How do you pick the best scary stories for kids? We focused on classic stories that can be easily read in the classroom, stories that are spooky and haunting but not graphic. Stories with plenty of twists, turns and surprises. Stories that pack a whollop and leave kids asking questions about their world.

Below you’ll find our free PDF with all ten scary stories.

Want more short stories for middle school? Go here.

Want to teach kids how to write scary stories? Check out our horrifying 6-week writing unit below. Or click here to learn more about what’s in the unit.

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The Best Scary Stories for Kids

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The Top 10 Scary Stories for Kids

The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

When it comes to scary stories for kids, everyone is playing second fiddle to Poe (which is why he’s featured twice on this list). Most readers are more familiar with The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher, but The Black Cat may be Poe’s masterpiece.

Like Tell-Tale Heart, this story is one of madness and murder, told by a deeply unreliable narrator. The unnamed protagonist details how he falls in love with a black cat bought by his wife and eventually comes to detest and kill the cat. This heinous act coincides with his spiraling alcoholism and depression.

But then the cat comes back.

Or does it? Poe walks a tightrope, leaving the reader to wonder whether the events are real or all in the narrator’s head.

Poe excels at writing stories that seem simple on the surface but are crammed with questions and meaning underneath. The Black Cat is a dark tale that inspires multiple readings and rewards close inspection.

The Hitchhiker by Lucille Fletcher

In her own time Fletcher was a highly-regarded writer of radio dramas. Sadly she’s forgotten today. Her best known radio plays — The Hitchhiker and Sorry, Wrong Number — are brilliantly executed tales of suspense.

The Hitchhiker is told from the point of view of man driving across the country. He spots a hitchhiker along the way but passes the man by. Then he spots the same hitchhiker again.

At first, this seems like nothing more than a coincidence. Obviously the hitcher nabbed a ride, got ahead of the narrator and was dropped off again.

But then the narrator spots the hitcher again. And again. And again. Slowly it becomes clear that something far more sinister and supernatural is going on here.

Reading a radio drama to kids may seem out of step, but actually we are living in the era of the radio drama revived. After all, what else is a podcast but a radio drama? Fletcher’s work illustrates the peak of the form, demonstrating how suspense and fear can be crafted with the fewest of words.

The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs

Little needs to be said about Jacobs’s masterpiece. It remains perhaps the most widely read story in the English language. It ranks as one of the finest horror stories ever written, and it is a joy to read in a classroom unprepared for its power.

The story is well-known: a family comes into possession of a magical monkey’s paw that grants three wishes. They wish for money and their son is killed in an accident at work. The money arrives as a payout from his employer.

At the end of the story, the wife wishes her son alive again. And in the middle of the night from the front door comes a horrid knocking.

No other story has illuminated the idea that one should not mess with fate even half so well as The Monkey’s Paw. For kids, this story is a high-water mark in coming of age as readers, a story that captivates and leaves them wondering and dreaming dark dreams.

The Veldt by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury was the greatest short story writer since Poe, and The Veldt is possibly his best story. With its unnerving exploration of the dark side of childhood and the dangers of technology, The Veldt is perhaps even more relevant today than when it was written over 70 years ago.

The story revolves around two children — aptly named Peter and Wendy — who have become obsessed with a room in their techno-wonder of a home. The room is a marvel, able to reproduce anything one imagines. Such as an African veldt, which the kids have become stuck on.

Peter and Wendy’s parents become concerned about the amount of time the children spend in the room, as well as their obsession with the African veldt, which the parents feel is creepy and unhealthy.

So the parents shut off the room.

And — no surprise — the kids are pissed. So pissed, in fact, that they set their parents up and trap them in the room, where they are promptly eaten by lions.

Bradbury’s story hits with one of the great twists of modern fiction, but it is its rumination on childhood and technology that linger the most. Few stories are as powerful as this one.

The Kit-Bag by Algernon Blackwood

Blackwood remains the acknowledged master of the classic ghost story. The Kit-Bag is a shining example of his work.

The story follows a young lawyer who has recently succeeded in securing a not-guilty verdict for his very-much-guilty client. With the trial over, the lawyer is determined to pack his bags and head for the Alps for a skiing trip.

His boss offers to let him use his kit-bag for his skiing gear, and the lawyer accepts. But when he arrives home he realizes the kit-bag is the same one that belonged to his murderous client. The kit-bag, in fact, that his client used in the disposal of his victims.

No surprise when the lawyer starts hearing strange sounds and eventually believes he sees the kit-bag being pulled mysteriously across the floor.

Blackwood is a master at building mood and suspense, weaving tales around gruesome subjects without ever offering any actually graphic details. It is all in the suggestion.

And like other authors on this list, Blackwood is a highly-skilled craftsman whose stories appear quite simple on the surface but which are far more complex than they first appear.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Jackson’s best-known work is — along with Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart and Jacobs’s Monkey’s Paw — likely the most-often anthologized story in the English language. It also has the distinction of causing the most subscription cancellations of the New Yorker magazine, which originally published Jackson’s story.

There are a lot of stories on this list with shocking twists at their ends, but perhaps none is as mind-blowing as the twist that Jackson whollops readers with in The Lottery.

The story revolves around a small village holding their annual lottery. Everyone gathers together in the town square. People draw small slips of paper to determine which family wins the lottery, and then again to determine which member of the family is the ultimate winner.

At the end, the winner is stoned to death by the townspeople.

Jackson’s tale is so shocking because of how craftily she weaves her tale. A first read often misses just how many subtle hints and clues she provides for the reader about the horror to come.

Has there ever been a story that so successfully manipulated its readers? Probably not. It is a high point in a career by one of the finest writers in American literature.

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe’s best-known story. Like The Black Cat, this story is a masterclass in how to utilize the unreliable narrator, in this case a horrific murderer who becomes obsessed with offing his benefactor.

What is particularly impressive about Poe’s tale is how well it anticipates the findings and theories of modern psychology, a field that isn’t even invented until decades after Poe’s death. In his own time, psychology as a practice didn’t exist, and yet Poe conceives of a dark, twisted inner mindscape with scary accuracy.

The Tell-Tale Heart is the finest example of the unreliable narrator ever penned, a story that reveals more and more questions with each additional reading. Who is the narrator? What is his relationship with the old man? Wait…is the narrator even a man? Poe never says. What does the narrator actually want anyway? It certainly isn’t money.

On and on and on. Poe’s tale twists back in on itself, coughing up more questions and never providing any answers. No other writer ever managed this trick nearly so well.

The Little Room by Madeline Yale Wynn

Wynn is another writer sadly forgotten to time. Unfortunate, because The Little Room is one of the most well-executed and disturbing stories in horror fiction.

Like Jackson who came after here, Wynn never feels the need to raise her voice. The Little Room is a quiet, unassuming story about a woman who remembers a strange room in her childhood home. Strange, because sometimes the room was there, and sometimes it wasn’t.

Sometimes it was a room, and sometimes it was nothing but a pantry closet.

The woman swears she only believes this because her own mother thought the little room came and went magically. She is sure this is nothing more than a childhood delusion planted in her mind by her mother.

But then she ventures back to her old home, and visits by her and others reveal that indeed, sometimes the room is there, and sometimes it isn’t.

Or is this really just in her head? Are people simply messing with her, claiming they’ve seen the room when they really haven’t?

The Little Room works so well because Wynn keeps the nature of the room — and whether it exists at all — at a distance, leaving the reader to wonder exactly what’s going on here. Where the story really strikes home is its depiction of how such uncertainty about reality leads to dangerous and unstable results. Indeed, the narrator’s mother goes mad from her experiences with the little room.

It is too bad Wynn didn’t write many more stories, because this one is top shelf.

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell

Another of the greatest stories in the language. Connell’s story — like The Monkey’s Paw and the works of Poe — is one of the most influential tales ever written, a classic that still holds the power to shock and awe.

The story takes place on Shiptrap Island where our narrator has become stranded. He wanders through the deserted island only to find that it is not actually deserted. Atop a hill in a huge mansion lives General Zaroff, a refined gentleman and world-renowned hunter.

Who also happens to hunt human beings here on Shiptrap, his own private killing grounds.

The Most Dangerous Game is the grandaddy of so many novels and movies to come: The Running Man by Stephen King, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, etc. What’s most impressive is that none of the writers who come after Connell ever explored the same themes more successfully.

Zaroff is a tremendous villain, a man who represents the peak of civilization living in the untamed wilds. Yet what has all that civilizing produced? A madman hellbent on slaughtering his fellow men for sport. Connell could hardly be more damning than that.

This is another tale that should be read more than once, as Connell buries so many disturbing little details here and there that are easily missed the first time around.

The Storm by McKnight Malmar

Malmar wrote only a single story, but what a tale.

The Storm is a brilliant example of how to carefully build suspense by slowly isolating a character more and more, amping up the tension until the story reveals its shocking secrets.

The tale revolves around a young woman who arrives home during a pounding storm. She expects her husband to arrive soon from a business trip, but he is clearly delayed by the storm. Rain and wind and darkness connive to spook the young woman, who feels desperately alone and frightened.

A cellar door comes open in the storm, and the young woman ventures into the basement to close it. There she discovers the body of another woman tucked into a trunk of clothes.

A murder victim? Killed by her husband?

When her husband arrives home, he finds his wife near hysterics. He descends into the basement and returns, saying there is nothing in the trunk but clothes. She must have been dreaming. The young woman returns to the basement and finds no body in the trunk.

But can she really trust her husband?

Malmar’s genius is in carefully building up the tension, tightening the screw little by little until the reader is no longer certain about anything. Is there a body? Is the woman insane? Is the husband a murderer?

So many unanswered questions.

Reluctant Reader Books