Sure, you can tell a spooky story any time of the year — but Halloween is the most perfect time, right? Still, you might be a little hesitant to read your kids a ghost story — what if they end up waking you up in the middle of the night with the parent’s worst nightmare: “I’m scared. Can I sleep with you”?” Luckily, we’ve found some classic scary Halloween stories for kids that carefully straddle the line between frightfully fun and nightmarish. (We love Stephen King, but you won’t find him and his scary clown IT on this list.)
There are a few notable tales that successfully avoid over-the-top terrifying — and those tend to be the family favorites. These tales are still a little spooky, so they aren’t completely fear-free. Here, we’ve rounded up the best just-so-spooky stories, so even the kids can feel festive this Halloween without too much drama. Take a look below to see which stories best fit your child’s age and scare-factor. Just be sure to have some Halloween sweet treats on hand.
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1. An American Classic Tale
The classic spooky tale takes place in America’s backyard—upstate New York—and is written by Washington Irving. America doesn’t have many myths or ghost stories, so this is a great one to read to your kids. Introduce your kids to Ichabod Crane, the town of Sleepy Hollow and the infamous Headless Horseman. Plus, it’s only 32 pages.
2. “The Hairy Toe”
This spooky story is about an old woman who, for some reason, eats a hairy toe she finds in the woods behind her cottage. But what about the owner of the toe? An excerpt from the book Spooky Maryland by S.E. Schlosser, this tale has enough fantasy to it that it’s not terribly scary for the younger ones.
3. “Dem Bones”
Is your little one crazy for pirates? This is the tale of Captain Kidd and his band of pirates, who bury treasure on the New Jersey shore and then come back to haunt the area on reality TV (just kidding about the last part). Retold by S.E. Schlosser as part of his Spooky New Jersey book, this tale will remind you of ghost stories from days gone by.
4. “White Dog”
Who doesn’t love a good dog story? Take one loyal dog, an adventurous boy, danger, and a ghost, and you’ve got a not-that-scary story for younger kids. This is just one story available on the TLC website that the whole family can enjoy.
5. An Unusual Ghost Story
What if your house were haunted but you could turn the tables on your ghost? In an adaptation of the classic Oscar Wilde story, “The Canterville Ghost” shows how a whole family deals with a ghost in their new home — and eventually help him move on.
6. “The Pleading Ghost”
James M. Deem is a children’s book author who has collected some of his favorite ghost stories and made them available in his “Haunted House” online. This story is from his book Ghost Hunters (out of print). Note: The pleading ghost in this story isn’t very scary, but it is a boy who died young, so make your own judgment call when reading it to little ones.
Next: “Looking for Dracula”
A version of this article was originally posted in September 2015.