1. A Stranger Came Ashore by Mollie Hunter
We begin with a dark tale from Scotland written by Mollie Hunter, which scared the vegetarian haggis out of me as a bairn.
A Stranger Came Ashore is told through the eyes of Robbie Henderson, a young islander whose family's life is disrupted by the ominous arrival of Finn Learson, a charming, mysterious stranger who may or may not be a dangerous, supernatural sea creature. Robbie's growing suspicion that Finn has sinister intentions, and has in fact come ashore to lure Robbie's sister back to the watery depths with him, will keep you guessing until the story's final moments. A subtly creepy coming-of-age tale.
2. Scary Stories to tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
The original collection of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz is a thing of sheer terror. Selected from various American folk tales and urban myths, and retold with Schwartz's dark wit and penchant for horrific detail, the stories are made even more memorable by Stephen Gammell's beautifully chilling artwork throughout the book. Me Tie Doughty Walker, The Big Toe, and of course The Wendigo stick out as the most nerve-shredding of the collection. Agree?
Also, because you're such lovely readers, here's the outline of a story Alvin Schwartz felt too dark to be told in his book:
'Infanticide ' is a theme in American folklore and European folklore. There is an Ozark folktale ... in which a man in his youth goes away and travels and becomes quite successful. His parents are quite poor. He comes back one night after many many years have elapsed and he looks completely different. He thinks he will therefore surprise them. He has come back with a lot of money and he wants to give it to them. They have an inn and he takes a room there for the night. They don't recognize him and he thinks that in the morning he will announce that he is their son. Well, they murder him during the night for his money. It's a marvellous story but I would not put it in one of my books. ' This kind of thing I avoid.' - Alvin Schwartz
3. The Thief of Always by Clive Barker
It's a children's book from the creator of Hellraiser, need I say more?
Clive Barker's fantastical yarn about young Harvey Swick, who is saved from the "Great Grey Beast February" and flown to the enigmatic Mr Hood's Holiday House by the strange, perpetually grinning salesman Rictus, is another personal favourite (I urge anyone who hasn't read it yet to run to their nearest bookshop and demand a copy as soon as is humanly possible).
The Holiday House is a space of seemingly infinite wonder for the awestruck Harvey and his new friends Lulu and Wendell: a place where every morning is spring, every afternoon summer, every evening Halloween and every night Christmas. But the House harbours a sinister secret which Harvey and his friends will discover at their peril, one which might tear them apart forever...
4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
A story comprised of only 338 words over 40 pages, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are demonstrates expert conciseness as it throws the reader into a dark adventure with angry young boy Max, who after being labelled a "wild thing" and send to bed without supper, witnesses his room morph into a fantastical land of huge, rowdy monsters. Arriving by boat to meet the other wild things, the unintimidated Max quickly manages to tame and befriend the fearsome creatures, who crown Max their King. But Max can't stay, and soon voyages home to his bedroom, where he finds supper waiting for him, still warm. By turns creepy, epic, sad and nostalgic, seldom has so much been conveyed in a story so simple.
5. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Immediately joining the ranks of other timeless, quintessential dark fairytales when it was published in 2002, Neil Gaiman's Coraline tells the story of an only child looking for escape from her boring new house and her boring old parents, but instead finding a nightmarish mirror-world of mortal peril spearheaded by the terrifying "other mother", an ill-intentioned version of Coraline's own mum, complete with buttons for eyes. A spine-tingling dark fantasy, which was adapted into an equally great 2009 stop-animation film.
6. The Minpins by Roald Dahl
This is a personal choice, and of course other Roald Dahl classics such as The Witches or The Twits could happily adorn this list too, but the Red Hot Smoke-Belching Gruncher - the horrible, unseeable villain of the Minpins - is single-handedly responsible for the fact that I now live exclusively in trees.
We join little Billy as he travels into the Forest of Sin behind his house, where he climbs the trees to find a society of miniature people called The Minpins hiding away from the *gulp* Red Hot Smoke-Belching Gruncher. Billy tries to help the Minpins and devises a plan to save them from the Gruncher, for which he's warmly rewarded with his very own swan to fly him on more adventures. A happy end to a terrifying trip.
7. Goosebumps, RL Stine
It's hard to know where to begin with RL Stine's 26 year-spanning 182 novella horror series Goosebumps. Described by some as a gory, kid-friendly novelised version of a Roger Corman B movie, each stand alone story usually follows a kid, or kids, dealing with some kind of tongue-in-cheek supernatural horror. The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, One Day at HorrorLand, Say Cheese and Die! and Welcome to Camp Nightmare are just some of the series' most beloved titles.
For those not quite at the required reading level for Goosebumps, fear not! This year's Jack Black-starring film inspired by the books is actually quite good too.
8. A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
A haunting low fantasy tale about a boy struggling to cope with his mother's terminal cancer, who is visited nightly by a strange monster with stories to tell, A Monster Calls was originally conceived by cancer sufferer Siobhan Dowd, who tragically died before she could write the story herself. Patrick Ness, writer and friend of Dowd's (Ness actually shared the same editor as Siobhan), went on to write the book, which poignantly deals with themes of death, grief and isolation.
9. Outside Over There, Maurice Sendak
Couldn't resist another Maurice Sendak entry, sorry.
Ida has been taking care of her baby sister while her father is away at sea. One night while Ida plays her horn to help the baby sleep, a pair of creepy little goblins sneak in through the open window and kidnap the baby, replacing her with a changeling made of ice (yes, Ida must have really been in the zone with her horn to miss that). When Ida realises this, she channels her inner Liam Neeson and sets off to get her sister back.
Aside from being a wonderful and typically dark piece of Sendak storytelling, the goblins of Outside Over There are absolute nightmare fuel. Just look at this for proof-
10. The Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall
Fifteen year old Jan and seven year old Ellie move with their parents to a big, isolated house in the Massachusetts countryside, against their better instincts. There is nothing ostensibly wrong with the new house per se, in fact it's pretty perfect, but Jan is nevertheless ill at ease there. She feels the sinister presence of a "watcher" outside the house (in the woods, no less), while Ellie can hear it... and then the sinister clues begin appearing, beginning with broken mirrors, each with an "X" across the middle, and growing steadily more sinister...
An interesting fact for Hammer fans: the 1980 adaptation of the novel is written by none other than Captain Kronos creator Brian Clemens!