Spooky Reads for Halloween: A Guide for Secondary ELA Teachers

Spooky Reads for Halloween: A Guide for Secondary ELA Teachers
If there's one thing you can tell your students for sure, it's that the human race is a race of storytellers. From ancient times to legends and folk songs, people have always loved to share stories, especially on special occasions. Halloween, for example, has no shortage of spooky tales to be told, and those stories come in all shapes and sizes.
To get your students into the scary spirit, here are ten novels and short stories to read this Halloween season: (Bonus points if they're read aloud in the dark, with a single, flickering flashlight, with spooky music playing in the background.) This post contains affiliate links, which do not affect you at all. However, I may receive a small kickback to help run the cost of this website.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Though Gaiman intended this novella for young children, its unique appeal extends to all ages. After Coraline moves into a creaky old house with her inattentive parents, she sets out to explore her new home and finds a passageway to another world. Although this world is by far more interesting than the one she calls home, it is far more deadly. Gaiman's prose is enchanting and sinister, gripping the reader and refusing to let go. Your students will never look at small cupboards or even their very own mothers the same again.

Miss Fortune by Brandi Dougherty

Zoe Coulter does not believe in magic, but after she receives a necklace from a slighted fortune teller, along with the promise of a grim future, she starts finding herself in increasingly life-threatening situations. The third installment in the Poison Apple Books collection, Miss Fortune is charming and appropriately creepy, mixing curses and possession with the antics of pre-teen girls. This short novel is suspenseful without being too scary and is well suited to middle-grade students who enjoy supernatural mysteries.

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe

One of Poe's best-known works, this short story features an agreeable and unsuspecting elderly neighbor, murdered in cold blood by the narrator. Even if the narrator's reasoning did not point towards madness (the neighbor's "vulture eye" was very distressing), the reader soon becomes aware that the narrator is unwell as they spiral further into insanity with guilt. Both middle grade and high school-aged students will be able to appreciate how well Poe's unique voice and affinity for the macabre suits All Hallows' Eve and its more gothic aspects.

Carrie by Stephen King

If this title brings to mind graphic images of pig's blood on prom night, then you know that this cult classic is a staple in the horror world. It combines the treacherous world of high school cliques, the plight of the isolated teenager, and good, old fashioned telepathic revenge in what King calls "an allegory for feminism." Carrie is the perfect read for mature high school students who wish to sink their teeth into something spine-chilling and sorrowful.

My Sister the Vampire Series by Sienna Mercer

This series follows the adventures of two twin sisters, Olivia and Ivy, one human and one vampire, as they try to navigate their newfound sisterhood, their murky lineage, strict vampire laws, and most dangerous of all - middle school. Mercer expertly weaves a secret world of the undead into the one we already know, in which humans are "bunnies," "suck" means "awesome," and vampires and humans do not mix. Whimsical and witty, pre-teens are sure to fall in love with the two clever, courageous heroines, as they fight to stay together and merge their different worlds.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Most people have heard of the Headless Horseman in some respect, even if it's only about the ghoul's more lovable counterpart Nearly Headless Nick from the Harry Potter series. Pay homage to one of the oldest urban legends and spooky stories by leading your class in an analysis of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the many modern adaptations that have spawned from it, such as the television show Sleepy Hollow. Students will find it interesting how what the American public considers frightening has changed and stayed the same, and how our delight with scaring ourselves and our friends goes back generations.
Spooky Reads for Halloween: A Guide for Secondary ELA Teachers

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

A brilliant work from the mind of the woman who invented science fiction, Frankenstein is one of the best-known monsters, immortalized and reimagined again and again in film, television, video games, and even Halloween costumes. The concept came to Shelley in a dream, and thus, one of the most iconic ghost stories was born. High schoolers will no doubt appreciate being able to step back in time with its elements of horror and commentary on the dark side of human nature.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Better known today as the critically acclaimed Netflix Original of the same name, this novel is regarded as one of the best-haunted house stories of all time. The narrative is so compelling because it focuses on the interpersonal relationships of the characters, and relies on psychological terror rather than gore or violence. In the end, the reader is left questioning whether Hill House was ever truly haunted, or if it was the characters' minds that were haunted instead. Sure to raise goosebumps and leave you looking over your shoulder in your own empty home, this read is best for mature teens and young adults.

The Night the Ghost Got In by James Thurber

Scary stories aren't often known for being silliness and humor, but Thurber breaks that mold in this instance. The short story unfolds through the eyes of a young boy, James, startled awake by what sounds like footsteps downstairs. At first believing the sound to be his father, then an intruder, and finally a ghost, James stirs his family into a panic. The ordeal is escalated by miscommunication, results in increasingly ridiculous accidents, and ends with everyone in a state of confusion. The Night the Ghost Got In is a perfect example for discussing how authors can do the unexpected even within the parameters of a very specific genre, such as ghost stories.

The Witches by Roald Dahl

As is the case with many of Dahl's works, The Witches has been the subject of some controversy. The story follows an orphaned boy and his grandmother as they attempt to foil a secret society of hideous witches who disguise themselves as ordinary women. While it is a well-written book, designed to spook children and be appreciated by adults, its content has been labeled staunchly anti-woman at times. Instead of shying away from Dahl's more unseemly implications, draw your students into the debate and gather their opinions on whether his depiction of witches and women are empowering or insulting. Or else, discuss how Dahl uses humor and satire to veil the very dark, morbid content of the plot.

Halloween-Themed Teaching Resources:
Spooky Reads for Halloween: A Guide for Secondary ELA Teachers