Five Reasons to Take Middle-Grade Horror Seriously

Middle-grade horror novels—spooky books aimed at 8-12-year-olds—are often an overlooked part of the horror scene. Most horror fans’ knowledge of the market stops dead at R.L. Stine and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. But middle-grade horror novels are a force, with Big 4 publishers and other major presses putting them out every week. But should they be taken seriously or are they just, “A training bra for Stephen King”?

1. Kids Welcome New Nightmares

For adult horror fans, genre tropes comfort us. We don’t balk at the millionth serial killer or vampire novel coming out and consider small tweaks to tropes to be innovation. But kids are willing to entertain brand new nightmares…because everything is a new nightmare to them. Also, they often chafe at the avalanche of ghost stories that adults throw at them when they’re looking for a scary book. Kids want to know the full spectrum of terror the same way they want to know the full spectrum of life.

2. Forbidden Knowledge is Thrilling

We all brainwash and gatekeep our kids. It’s impossible not to. But books are a path to independent thought and experience for them. Parents can see and block what movies their kids are watching and video games their kids are playing, but they’re often more permissible when it comes to books. Partly, because they don’t have the time to pre-read everything. Also, because they’re just happy the kid is reading at all. But there’s a thrill to reading a dangerous-seeming horror novel that maybe your parents wouldn’t let you read if they knew what was in those pages, and that thrill at seemingly forbidden knowledge can lead to a lifetime of reading.

3. The Terror is the Point

Kids get preached to every hour of their existence by every adult they know. And kids books are often guilty of being didactic, as well. But scary novels are a way for kids to escape the preaching. Because the terror is the entire point of the book. Sure, they might learn something along the way, but who cares? Will this monster they’re reading about visit them in their bedroom that night? That’s what’s really important.

4. Scaring Sticks

Scare a kid, and they’ll remember it the rest of their lives. It’ll be a building block of who they become when they grow up. Adults move on from horror novels to their life of real-world terrors and often use fictional horror as an escape from that. Kids take to heart those terrifying moments experienced in the dark, under their blanket, with a flashlight and a scary book.

5. Kids Keep the Horror Genre Alive

Parents who are horror fans wonder when they can start sharing their passion with their kids. It’s a weird hobby like that. There’s an age-appropriate line, one that can be transgressed more safely with the written word than visual mediums. Middle-grade horror novels is where to start. And then those monster kids grow up to be the fresh blood that renews the genre.

Don’t believe me? Check out my latest, The Smashed Man of Dread End.