Jenni Spangler on her Favourite Gothic Children's Books
Utterly absorbing and boasting delightfully creepy artwork from the great Chris Mould, The Vanishing Trick - Waterstones Children's Book of the Month for May - follows a manipulative medium and the disturbing ways she binds orphan children to her will. In this exclusive essay, the author Jenni Spangler reveals her favourite glorious, gruesome and grotesque gothic fiction for children.
As a child I was always drawn to spooky stories. I graduated from Goosebumps onto Point Horror and ‘true’ hauntings, and as a teenager I chose to write my English coursework on gothic classics Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations.
That word – gothic – is an interesting one. For a long time, children’s fiction was the opposite of gothic. Early children’s books were intended to be wholesome and morally improving, in contrast to the gothic adult books which dealt with the secretive, the forbidden, the supernatural.
Luckily for me, and other spooky kids like me, there’s now a wealth of children’s books with a splash of the gothic. Here are some of my favourite stories while allow us to explore the creepy and mysterious from the comfort and safety of a good book.
Gaiman is a master of rich prose and dark tales – and they don’t get much darker than the opening of this book which sees a toddler narrowly escape a murderer by wandering into a graveyard. The idea of a child being raised in a graveyard is incredible and I could happily read this again and again.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
I have read every single one of these multiple times. The narrator’s voice is funny and the strange, larger-than-life characters and settings are so memorable. The author lives up to his promise to make things continually worse for his characters, going to some pretty dark places, but always in a fun and exciting way.
An ABC book with a difference, this shows twenty six children meet various sticky ends. The humour is dark, and the illustrations are both beautiful and bleak. There’s nothing quite like this.
The Lockwood and Co books imagine a world where hauntings are an ever-present threat and only child operatives are able to detect and deal with them. I was already an adult when this book came out but it had me genuinely scared at points – I can only imagine how terrified and delighted I would’ve been to read this as a child.
Edinburgh is a city of ghost stories and Sharon Gosling brings it to life in all it’s gothic squalor and glory. The bond between these three adopted sisters had me hooked throughout, and I adore the inclusion of real historical figures which makes this story all the more vivid and enchanting.
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