Top Ten Genuinely Unsettling Children’s Stories

Sometimes children’s books are scary when we think about them (sometimes they’re scary even if we don’t think about them). So I decided to compile a list of books for children that are really quite terrifying and will make adults wonder if there isn’t a monster hiding at the back of their closet… In no particular order:

  1. The Witches – Roald Dahl

thewitchesTo be honest, it’s a Dahl book, nuff said. I could literally pick a whole selection of Roald Dahl’s books- but since this one legitimately gave me nightmares, I had to choose it.



  1. Hansel and Gretel – Grimm’s Brothers

Hansel-and-gretel-rackhamI remember learning Bettleheim’s theory of how children will avoid stories that they find too much for them, and man, I heard this story once and avoided it like the plague. I know a lot of the Grimm’s tales are much grimmer in the original form, but this one is terrifying no matter which way you spin it and will always be the scariest of any collection. Plus, it doesn’t help that as an adult, I’ve heard some even freakier psychoanalytic readings of this story.

  1. Goosebumps: Calling All Creeps! – R L Stine

calling all creepsAgain, a lot of Stine’s books are creepy, but this one takes the biscuit… or cake… Seriously this book will make you look at bake sales in an entirely different light… (spoiler alert: it’s also one of the few scary kids’ books where the bad guys are allowed to win)


  1. Tales of Terror – Pike

pike tales of terrorThough I read this as a child, this one is for slightly older teens… and there’s a reason! I know I scare easily- but these have got to be some of the freakiest stories I’ve ever read. Still, I reread them so many times (goodness knows why!) and they left me all tingly and terrified every time!


  1. The Doomspell – Cliff McNish

doomspellI read a couple of McNish’s actual scary books when I was older and they had me sleeping with the light on- ironically though, nothing beats how absolutely mind-blowingly scary the witches are in this book!! I mean, if you thought the witches are scary in the Witches try reading this!!


  1. Tales of the Peculiar – Ransom Riggs

tales of the peculiarI saw online that this was aimed a 12+… 12+? Seriously? I read this when I was double that age and it freaked me out!! Okay, excusing the fact that I am a scaredy cat, this is actually an awesome collection.


  1. Coraline – Neil Gaiman

coralineAhh so many of Gaiman’s books are creepilicious and even though this may be aimed at a younger audience, it’s actually the most unsettling one I’ve read so far.



  1. Through the Woods – Emily Carroll

through the woodsAnother one aimed at 12+… I get the reasoning, since it doesn’t have anything graphic (no pun intended) in it, but I still don’t know if this would have scarred me as a twelve year old or just made me mature faster (and probably left me with even darker appetites in literature)


  1. Another Me – Cathy Macphail

another me macphailWhile not my favourite of Macphail’s books, she is definitely underrated (although I believe this one’s getting turned into a film) and this one genuinely scared me, because it had me thinking “what if”- speaking of which…


  1. Brother’s in the Land – Robert Swindells

brothers in the landApparently books like these about the nuclear apocalypse were all the range in the sixties, so when I excitedly told my mum about this book, she shrugged her shoulders at me. I, however, have found these books have gone out of fashion, so for me this was exciting, fresh and terrifying. Also, this is another author I believe is *massively* overlooked- sure, his books may not be new, but if you’re looking for scary reads you can’t go wrong with books like Abomination or Stone Cold.

So agree with my list? Disagree? And do you have any unsettling children’s books that come to mind? Let me know in the comments!


96 thoughts on “Top Ten Genuinely Unsettling Children’s Stories

  1. Bookstooge says:

    Definitely agree with the Dahl selection. He held back no punches when it came to children’s lives. It’s not all gumdrops and puppydogs when you’re a kid and Dahl shows that unflinchingly. And tells a very fun story along the way…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lucy Brazier says:

    The Witches scared me as a child too! I haven’t read the Swindells one, but at school we read a book called Z For Zachariah, also a post-apocalyptic nuclear war-type book. It really unsettled me at the time and I still remember it vividly now.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nel says:

    Goosebumps was my jam especially the ones that had you choosing your outcome. I would add Lord of the Flies to the list cause those were children and why did I read that as a preteen?? I don’t know if you know this one but there’s one called Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and the cover alone is creepilicious! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. raistlin0903 says:

    When you come to think of it, a lot of children’s fairy tales are quite unsettling in some part and quite disturbing. Hansel and Gretel is a great example, but Red Riding Hood certainly is another one 😊 As for Roald Dahl, I think I did actually get a few nightmares as a child after reading the Witches. Great post, and a very original concept 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  5. daleydowning says:

    I’ve never been able to finish the novelization of Coraline — I’ve seen the movie so many times I practically have parts of it memorized, but when I tried to read the book, I actually had to skip about 20 pages close to the end, because it was getting too unnerving.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Angelica (TheBookCoverGirls) says:

    Great list! I have read several of the Grimm’s stories and every time they manage to surprise me with just how messed up and gruesome they truly are. With the Disney princesses around we sometimes forget that a lot of those stories are actually pretty dark. And while I have not read Coraline, it is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. To this day, as a 21-year-old adult, I cannot watch that movie. That said, I don’t think I could actually read the book without being mentally scarred lol

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dani @ Perspective of a Writer says:

    GAH!! So many of these are books I don’t think about but which I loved! Witches and ALL Dahl’s books creeped me out…I remember asking my mom to help me find more books like his and at the time there just wasn’t any… Goosebumps though came out sometime later and my brother and I LOVED those, lol… I don’t remember a single one but they successfully weaned him off his picture books! Coraline I read as an adult and YES Neil Gaiman… I’ve read a lot of books from the 60s but I don’t recall Robert Swindells I’ll have to look up the books you mentioned! ❤ SUCH A GREAT LIST, Orangutan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Ahh I’m so glad!! I know right!! I couldn’t get enough of both of those!! I definitely think they were a gateway drug in some way, cos they were so easy to read and there were so many of them!! Oh yeah, he’s not from the 60s (I think he’s 80s… I don’t know?) I just meant my mum was unimpressed cos apparently there’s tons of books like his out there. And I don’t think he does such original work, but it is good! Thank you so much!! 😀 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Katrina says:

    Great list. I loved Roald Dahl’s books and any other books which were a bit unnerving. The Day Dreamer by Ian McEwan has a scary story about a doll in it which is worth checking out

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy says:

    Great topic!! Oh man I loved the Goosebumps books growing up, and The Witches, even though both scared me. Hansel and Gretel is actually my favourite fairy tale… but I only appreciated the full creepiness of it as an adult. As a kid I think I was too distracted by the gingerbread house 🙂 (though the image of the witch checking the thickness of the boy’s finger and feeling a bone instead really stuck with me, so I’m guessing I was unsettled). Coraline is super creepy too!

    I don’t know if it counts, but what comes to my mind for this topic is actually a film based on a childrens book (though some say its not a childrens book) – Watership Down. It has rabbits dying left, right and centre, and is just downright creepy and unsettling, not to mention bloody. I think there’s a scene where one dies and/or goes rabid from poisoning… it haunted me for days afterwards. I just looked some scenes up on youtube and it’s still horrifying!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. FranL says:

    The Witches TERRIFIED me as a kid. I loved it, but in a horrified way. This is sort of embarrassing since it’s such a silly book, but I was scared of Bunnicula by James Howe. Just the idea of a vampire bunny….

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Anna @MyBookishDream says:

    Dahl books can be seriously creepy! I never actually read them as a child, but even now they creep me out. Most fairy tales, both from the brothers Grimm and from Hans Cristian Andersen are very disturbing! Hansel and Gretel is definitely one of those!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Sophie Li says:

    To be honest, I haven’t read many of the books on your list! But I do know what you mean in that there are some children’s stories that are quite unsettling. I read a few Goosebumps novels as a kid but never liked the series because it freaked me out :’)
    When you mentioned Hansel and Gretel, it reminds me of another fairy tale that I heard back when I was a kid living in China: There is a girl who really really wants to have a pair of red dancing shoes. When she finally gets them and puts them on, they make her want to dance. At first she loves it, but then she realizes that she can’t stop dancing, and she can’t remove the shoes. In the end, the only thing that can stop her dancing is to have her feet cut off.
    … I KNOW RIGHT? Isn’t that so creepy? I probably heard this story when I was 4 or 5 but it still sticks in my mind to this day. I guess the moral of the story is that… we shouldn’t be too greedy / be careful what you wish for?
    Love this post :’) Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      hehe no worries- some of them are really random things they just had in my library when I was younger- goodness knows where they got them 😉 Ah I get that- they were freaky- I think the only reason I was able to read so many was cos they got repetitive (and consequently less scary- I think it’s a bit like the cure for being scared of Goosebumps was to read more goosebumps 😉 )
      OMG that’s a TERRIFYING story!!! I don’t think I’m gonna ever forget that now!! Yeah- hehe but it’s a freaky way to deliver that message lol!!
      Thank you so much for reading and for your awesome comment!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sophie Li says:

        Lol!!! Yes it’s terrifying, isn’t it?! To be honest I don’t remember being very scared when I first heard that story. I might have been like, “oh she just got her feet cut off, okay”. But in hindsight I am aghast that this story was told to me at all lol!!!
        It is kind of weird to think that there are freaky stories like this for children. Then again, I wonder if kids nowadays are more protected than us from stories like these!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Fictionophile says:

    Your post brought back a memory of reading “The Witches” to my two children. My son (the youngest) was only about 7 yrs. at the time. He interrupted my reading to ask me to take my shoes off to see if my toes were squared off….
    Thankfully he is now a well-adjusted, married man of 32 or else I would wonder if I had scarred him for life. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Marie says:

    Oh this is such a fantastic post – and I love this list so much. That Goosebumps book was SO CREEPY ahah, I agree. Same goes for Coraline. I read it a couple years ago and, well…it was so, so unsettling, I can’t imagine reading this as a kid? It would have freaked me out so much. It kind of freaked me out as an older teenager, hahaha.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. LizScanlon says:

    Bloody hell, not a single book in this list have I read! I don’t know whether to hide in shame or go on a shopping spree 😀 hahaha…Some of the titles definitely grabbed my eye though so I must make some room for them on the old TBR pile…

    Liked by 1 person

  16. MC says:

    I definitely second Roald Dahl books and would also add, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. that one story about the spider egg bursting on a woman’s face stayed with me for months after reading it. The visuals in the latter were probably a very powerful part of that….


  17. Lashaan (Bookidote) says:

    Fantastic list you got here. Had me laughing just with the first 3. And man, Gaiman and creepilicious… That’s definitely the best way to describe it. Saw the animated movie of Coraline… and man.. I can’t imagine how Gaiman might have wrote that. 😛 That R.L. Stine one is such a throwback with that cover too hahaha

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Poulami @ Daydreaming Books says:

    I’ve only read Coraline from your list and I definitely agree!! Although I haven’t read Goosebumps, the show used to scare the crap out of me as a kid. That’s why I never picked up the books and mostly because evil wins in that show.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Zoie says:

    Roald Dahl’s books are always an interesting combination of being really creative, really creepy, and really hilarious at the same time 😆, so I think it makes sense that it’s on your list. Also, seeing the original Hansel and Gretel story on your list makes me remember how strange it is how filtered newer versions of the original fairy tales are. The original fairy tales (e.g. The Little Mermaid) are much more darker than any of the Disney films would suggest. I have this huge book of original fairy tales that I’m slowly making my way through reading, and each time I read a fairy tale that I thought I was familiar with (but apparently not), I know I can’t watch any of the Disney films without thinking about how dark the original story is 😅😂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. thatgeekywriterchick says:

    I avoided Hansel and Gretel like the plague when I was a kid. It’s terrifying. I remember being super creeped out by a particular scene in Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen when I was given it at nine. I put the book down and waited another four years to read it. Still gives me goosebumps though.


  21. kaylemspirit says:

    I love all these types of stories and it’s exactly the kind that inspired me to write the book I am working on now called “The Graveyard Shift’. It’s free to read on my site and the first chapter is there now if you or any of your subscribers would like to read it. I hope you like it and don’t mine me plugging it here.


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