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The best ghost stories for kids

These scary ghost stories for kids will frighten you, too—or make your family laugh. It's all in how you tell them.

Written by
Oliver Strand
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It's spooky season, which means it's time to tell the best ghost stories for kids, stream the best scary films for kids and screen the best Halloween movies for kids.

Are you ready? We came up with 13 tales that will delight and frighten your crew—the list starts with silly stories suitable for young listeners, then creeps up the scary scale to ancient myths so terrifying they might keep you up at night. 

How horrifying are these stories? It's up to you. Remember, it's all in the telling—and how you use dramatic pauses and ghostly whispers.

If you want to be a parental hero, workshop one or two of these stories to pull out when you're out apple picking with the family or wandering through a pumpkin patch

Remember, Halloween is more than just costumes and candy. It's the thrill of being frightened by a scary ghost story for kids, and then comforted by the ones who love you most. 

(Psst: Head to your favorite kids' library branches to check out some of these stories!) 

Ghost stories for kids

Julia Donaldson's book is more delightful and spooky than scary, which makes it perfect for younger kids. Will the witch have enough room on the broom for all the creatures she meets? Will they escape the dragon? Your family will enjoy the drawings and wordplay as much as the story.

A hotel is completely booked up—except for a room haunted by a ghost who terrifies any guest foolish enough to try to fall asleep. The ghost softly moans "bloody fingers...bloody fingers...bloody fingers..." Naturally, there's a twist at the end, but it's more silly than scary—it's all in the tone, and if you do it right you should get as many laughs as you do squeals. You can find this story in Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

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Tom Kitten refuses to listen to his mother, and after he wriggles out of a grounding he finds himself under the floorboards of the attic and in the company of Samuel Whiskers and Anna Maria, two rats who set out to bake the young cat into a tasty dessert. This Beatrix Potter story was also published as The Roly-Poly Pudding.

Money is scarce and food is hard to come by, which is why a heartless stepmother (always with the stepmother) coaxes young Hansel and Gretel into the woods and abandons them to their fate. Hansel's plan to find his way home with a trail of crumbs is a fail, and the two find themselves in the house of an old witch who works Gretel to exhaustion while fattening up Hansel to roast and eat later. Do you remember what happens next? This story puts the grim in the Brothers Grimm.

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Filed under "This Is a True Story," the Clown Statue is an urban legend that tells the story of a night that goes horribly wrong. Once upon a time, there was a happy household with two sweet children who were always talking about the scary clown statue in their bedroom. There was no clown statue, but their parents humored them and laughed it off. Once, when the parents were on a date night, the babysitter texted to tell them that the kids were asleep and everything was peachy, but was it OK to put a throw over the clown statue in the corner of the room? (It was freaking her out a little.) You can find this urban legend in book five of Horrifying Tales From The Dead. 

A young woman dies and is buried with a priceless emerald ring. A visitor passing through town observes the ring at the funeral, and digs up the casket that night to steal the jewel. When he cant pull the from her swollen finger he pulls out a knife to cut it off—and she screams, and grabs at his face with her bloody hand. Not everything here is as it seems...

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Before the goofy cartoons and turned the Headless Horseman into a Halloween cliché there was Washington Irving's gothic tale of a Hessian soldier fighting for the British who was decapitated in the Revolutionary War, and who haunted the Hudson Valley hamlet of Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod Crane, a schoolteacher from Connecticut, was too rational to fall for the local folklore—until a moonlit chase changed him forever. Was it real, or just a prank? The terror is in the telling.

In this story from In a Dark, Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz, a girl named Jenny always wears a green ribbon around her neck. She meets a boy named Alfred, but she refuses to tell him why she continues to wear the ribbon—even after they fall in love, marry and build a life together. Finally, when they are old, she lets Alfred untie the ribbon...

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Remember hitchhiking? Us either, because of ghost stories like The Vanishing Hitchhiker: A kind driver picks up a hitchhiker who is pleasant and chatty. The hitchhiker is a little chilly, so the driver finds an old sweater in the backseat. (Or a jacket, or a scar, depending on what version of the urban legend you tell.) A little while later, the driver turns to find the hitchhiker has vanished into the air. And the sweater? Oh, it was found all right...

 

A police detective comes home to his young, pregnant wife to tell her he wants a divorce. Her sensible reaction is to club him on the head, and kill him. She plots her next moves knowing that his colleagues will soon come over to investigate this unexpected death, and so she sets to making dinner—and the disposing of the murder weapon. This sardonic Roald Dahl short story was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock for the small screen in 1958.

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Mr. Sullivan is having an odd day. He's following his normal routine, but the people he encounters are acting strangely—some stare at him without speaking, while others run away. What gives? Eventually, Mr. Sullivan realzies that this day isn't like any other, and that he isn't the man he thought he was. You can find this story in Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. 

Long ago in Japan there was a story called "Cow Head" that was so scary that anybody who heard it would become mad. To save the people the story was destroyed, the tale forgotten. But not long ago a young schoolteacher took an interest in the story, and started reassembling the pieces of it she could gather from scraps of paper and the memories of elders. One day, when she was one a field trip with her students, the young teacher started telling the parts of the tale she knew. The students hung on her every word...

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13. Hide-and-Seek

Two children are playing hide-and-seek in a rambling old house, and as they carry the game to the upper floors it becomes harder and harder to find each other. One child hides in a closet, and when a hand grabs her arm she thinks she's been found. But then she hears her friend's voice in the hallway outside just as the hand pulls her deeper into the closet...

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