At first I thought, I’m not going to do a Halloween post. After all, what can be more terrifying than this year?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. 2017 jumped the shark a long time ago in regards to how mind-numbingly horrifying it has been. I can’t think of a worse time. (Except maybe high school.)
Then I remembered that sometimes reading about other scary and horrible things can actually make you feel better about the terrors you face in real life. Like humor, it too can be a coping mechanism. Which is great, because if you’re having a year like me, you need all the coping tools you can get.
Right—on to the spooky, creepy, seasonally-themed whimsy!
Bunnicula by James and Deborah Howe
Okay, so maybe you’ve read this one, but sometimes it’s good to think of the classics, right? In my home, this is a classic. Kid me was all over the concept of a vampire bunny. (In fact, now that I think about this book and look at my own, it’s clear that Bunnicula really impacted me as a writer.) Plus, the story is narrated by Harold, the lovable family dog who’s main concern seemed to be chocolate snack cakes and napping, which even now makes me feel really connected to Harold on a deep spiritual level. Chester, the family cat, is delightfully paranoid and a great foil for the easygoing Harold. The book also strikes a deep chord of horror in most children because the idea that vegetables could be made even more unappetizing had never occurred to them. The book itself isn’t that spooky, which makes it a great read-aloud option for families with younger kids.
Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly
Cam is dealing with all of the regular horrors of middle school—dances, algebra, awkwardly running in to former friends who know too much about her—but she’s also dealing with a whole lot more. See, Cam’s adopted mom is a wicked witch, and she wants to raise a demon to take over the world. Which means on top of the normal stuff, Cam also has to secure a regular supply of goat’s blood, take care of a sick dragon, stop a phoenix from rising in the school during the night of the Halloween dance, and somehow stop her wicked witch of a mother from taking over the world. (And she absolutely must not even think of dripping on the pentagram.) Though you wouldn’t think it possible in a book that contains things like pig’s blood and pentagrams, Connolly manages to keep things light and fun, making this a young adult book okay for younger readers.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
So real talk time—I have a reading problem. I get too many books and they’re starting to stack up in my house and I don’t get to them as quickly as I’d like. I’m ashamed to say that this was one of those books. As in, a bookseller handed me an advance copy promising that I’d love it, and I agreed that I would and then it sat on my shelf. The book came out. Then it came out in paperback. I kept thinking, must read, and like a fool, didn’t pick it up. (This is not a reflection of the book in anyway. My TBR pile in my home is a horror show.) It actually took me reading Grady’s Freaky Friday posts here on the site, featuring old pulpy horror novels about things like militarized killer whales, before I looked him up to see what else he’d written… and realized that I’d been sitting on his novel for a ridiculously long time. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is pitched as Beaches meets The Exorcist, and I think that’s quite apt. It’s dryly funny in the constant skewering of class and race, and is steeped in the Satanic Panic of the Reagen Era. Abby, the protagonist is best friends with Gretchen, and the two are part of a popular clique of sophomore girls. After a night of partying, Gretchen comes back…changed…and Abby is convinced that her friend has been possessed by the devil. Though there are true moments of horror, it’s a toss-up over whether or not that’s scarier than the paralyzing portrayal of high school friendships and the general world of being a teen. (Personally, I’d rather battle a demon than go back to high school, but that might just be me.) Scary, funny, and full of bodily fluids, this is a good book for readers that like a little comedy in their horror. (Also, the paperback cover is pure genius and looks exactly like a beat up VHS tape.)
Chew, written by John Layman with art by Rob Guillory
Chew is…weird. As in, when I try to describe it, most people give me a look. However, if you’re like me and weird, sometimes disgusting, and slightly outlandish comics are your jam, then this comic will quickly burrow its way to the inner chambers of your heart like some sort of magical heart weevil. Chew is about Tony Chu who is a Cibopath, which means anytime he eats anything he gets a psychic flash of the history of the thing he’s eating. (Except for beets, which are neutral.) This comes in handy in a world where chicken and other avians are illegal to eat, due to a catastrophic bird flu epidemic. Because of his powers, Tony ends up working for the FDA and occasionally has to taste corpses so he can see what happened to them. Also, there are vampires. I haven’t even touched how deeply odd this comic is, but I will say that it won two Eisner and two Harvey awards and that Guillory’s art is at times almost adorable, which contrasts with the subject matter perfectly. But honestly, if I didn’t have you after “Cibopath pursues black market chicken ring” then I wasn’t ever going to have you.
The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
It was hard for me to pick a picture book this go round. My kids are spooky kids and we have Halloween books out all year round. I almost picked Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam Rex, which is a funny book of monster poetry, but I’ve already featured one of his books in this column. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is a fun, cute Halloween read, as is Goodnight Goon by Michael Rex (a parody of the beloved Goodnight Moon). So many picture books! I picked The Wolves in the Walls because it is actually quite creepy due in large part to Dave McKean’s distinctive and occasionally chaotic art style. The story itself is dark—a little girl, Lucy, hears something in the walls, and when she brings up her fears to her family, she’s immediately dismissed. Personally, I love the idea of wolves coming out of the walls and having a house party. I love the pig puppet. I love all the weird, surreal details. And though I love this book that pairs whimsy and horror so well, I should also note that sensitive children might have a hard time with it.
What are your favorite funny spooky books? List away in the comments—we all need new books to read! (Except maybe me. My TBR pile is really bad. Oh, who am I kidding—I also need new books, always.)
Lish McBride currently resides in Seattle, spending most of her time at her day job at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. The rest of her time is divided between writing, reading, and Twitter, where she either discusses her desire for a nap or her love for kittens. (Occasionally ponies.) Her debut novel, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and was a finalist for the YALSA William C. Morris Award. Her other works include Necromancing the Stone, Firebug, and Pyromantic.