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Booktalks for Spooky Children's Books: Audience Participation Book Talks for Kids Grades 3-6

Adele has been a youth services librarian in public libraries for 20 years.

Booktalks for Spooky Children's Books

Booktalks for Spooky Children's Books

Spooky Books Covered in These Booktalks

  • Grave Images by Jenny Goebel
  • The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
  • The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver
  • The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
  • Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel
  • It’s the First Day of School…Forever! by R.L. Stine
  • Half-Minute Horrors by various authors
Grave Images by Jenny Goebel

Grave Images by Jenny Goebel

Grave Images by Jenny Goebel

Grave Images is a book for the child who likes things spooky but not bloody. Interesting factoid: the author has actually worked as a monument engraver herself.

To introduce this book, I bring a copy of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by J.S. Bach. You can bring a CD, or you can bookmark this video on a phone or pad and bring it in.

I ask for a volunteer to come and push the button to get the music started. Then, after a few seconds, I say to the child “This piece of music corresponds to the mood of the next book I’m going to talk about it. What mood would you say this music has?”

Usually, they say “spooky” or “scary,” and then I launch into the book talk by showing the children the cover of the book.


You can tell by the cover that this book is a little bit creepy.

Do you see the girl who looks a little freaked out? Her name is Bernie. And her life is a little bit weird.

She lives in Colorado, but that’s not the weird part. It’s what her father does for a living. See this gravestone—how it has a picture and some words? Well, her father does that. He carves the words and the images into gravestones. Sometimes Bernie helps him. She’s gotten so she can carve the pictures pretty well.

But it’s not the gravestones that have Bernie freaked out. It’s the guy who showed up one day, offering to help. He can carve those gravestones faster than anyone she knows. And that should be a good thing, right? If they can make more gravestones, they can make more money.

But here’s the part that freaks out Bernie. You see, she was snooping around this guy’s place—even though she knew she shouldn’t be—and she discovered that he is making the gravestones for people BEFORE they die. Does he know somehow when someone is going to die? Or does he MAKE them die?

Bernie wants to find out, and I bet you will too when you read this book.

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

AR reading level 5.1; interest level: 5th-8th grades

I have loved Jonathan Stroud’s books ever since I read his first book, The Amulet of Samarkand and met the wise-cracking djinn, Bartimaeus.

The Screaming Staircase, the first in the Lockwood & Co. series continues the smart humor and suspense.

To introduce this book, I like to choose a kid to come up and press the button for this app on my phone (I think you can get it for a tablet, as well.)

It plays a high-pitched tone that only kids can hear. My nephew demonstrated it at a family gathering recently. All the kids were holding their ears and telling him to turn it off, while the adults were looking at each other and saying, “I don’t hear anything.” Evidently, our hearing starts to degrade when we’re about 20.

The children will love knowing they can do something that their teacher can’t, even if it is to hear a high-pitched screeching sound.

This little demonstration plays directly into one of the plot points of the book: only children can see the ghosts that are inhabiting this alternate version of London.


This book is part mystery, part horror, and part fantasy.

It takes place in London, England, but it's a different London than we know.

You see, about 50 years ago this Problem started in London, and –-well—these –Beings started appearing all over the place.

Some call them Visitors. But that's a little too mild. Some people, the people who have really dealt with them, call them malevolent ghosts.

Here are some rules for living in this new London:

  1. If you see a ghost, run.
  2. Don't let a ghost touch you, or you're dead.
  3. Only kids can see ghosts.

That's right, only the kids can see them or hear them. Adults know something spooky is around, but only the kids can figure out what they are, where they are, and how to get rid of them.

How do you get rid of a ghost? Well, you'll need some salt. Some iron chains. A rapier. Silver is good. And some magnesium flares, in a dire emergency, but be careful—you can burn the whole house down with those.

As you can imagine, people don't like sharing their houses with ghosts. So there are lots of agencies that specialize in ridding your house of these visitors.

Most of them have adults managing the company and kids doing the work of searching out the ghosts.

But Lockwood and Company is different. The head of that agency is a boy, Anthony Lockwood. He's trying to compete with the big companies, and it's not an easy task. It's a good thing he has George with him. George looks kind of blank and doughy, but he's an excellent researcher.

And Lucy Carlyle. She has an uncanny knack for hearing the ghosts and sometimes knowing what they are thinking.

They make a good team at Lockwood & Co. until things get out of hand on a case and—well—good things don't happen. It looks like they'll be ruined until a mysterious fellow shows up. He offers to rescue the company, provided they go and clean up some property he has, with the worst hauntings in all of London.

The question is: can they survive a night in the house with the Screaming Staircase?

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

AR reading level 5.8; interest level 4th-6th grades

The Spindlers is a relatively short book that is charmingly creepy. For this booktalk, I put the three books mentioned into a bag and have a child pull them out. Alternately, you could print out copies of the book covers.


This book is a little like Harry Potter. It’s a little like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And, it is a little like Coraline.

The main character is a girl named Liza who has a little brother. His name is Patrick.

Liza knows all about Patrick. He’s chubby, stubborn, and candy-grubbing. He also loves pancakes.

Now, if you have a little brother or sister, you know how they act. So what would you think if your little brother or sister came to breakfast and they were perfectly polite and quiet? No whining, no teasing, no playing with food.

You might think, like Liza did, that something was wrong.

She looked into Patrick’s black eyes and knew right away: the Spinners had come and stolen Patrick’s soul.

And she was the only one who could get it back.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

AR reading level 4.2; interest level 3rd-5th Grade

The author, Sheila Turnage, has quite a way with a southern turn of phrase, and her character, Mo LeBeau, whom we first met in Three Times Lucky, is a girl who will leap off the page. She’s a big-hearted, take-charge, no-nonsense girl in a quirky world. The cover picture of The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing reminds me of warm summer evenings, and I like to turn on some crickets while I do the talk. Here is a YouTube video of cricket noises you can put on your phone or tablet.

If you have time, ask the kids to get out a piece of paper and draw their rendition of a ghost. Ask them the following questions as they draw.

What does a ghost look like? What color is it? What does it smell like?

What does it have to say?

The girl in this book, Miss Mo LoBeau is determined to find out. Not just because she’s curious.

Mo has to find out because she said she’d interview the ghost for her history paper. That’s right, the ghost is Mo’s homework.

Can you imagine? Would you like to interview a ghost for your homework?

Well, whether you do or not, it makes for a good story. And if you haven’t met Mo LoBeau before in the first book, Three Times Lucky, you’ll have to meet her now. She is quite a character and lots of fun to spend time with.

Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel

Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel

Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebe

AR Reading Level 5.6; Interest Level 4th-6th Grades

I introduce Fortune Falls by writing the following phrases on slips, folding them, and then handing them out to children you select in the audience. If you are short on time, you can just read the phrases and have them vote “lucky or unlucky.”

  • Four-leaf clover
  • Step on a crack
  • Birthday wish
  • Breathing when you go past the cemetery
  • Knocking on wood
  • Black cats
  • Seeing the first star at night
  • Breaking a mirror
  • Walking under a ladder

Have each child who received a slip read it out loud. Then ask for a show of hands: Lucky? or unlucky?


This is a fun fantasy that takes place in a town called Fortune Falls. This isn’t like any town you’ve ever been to.

You’ve probably heard of some crazy superstitions. “Step on a crack, you break your mother’s back. Hold your breath when you pass a cemetery, or you’ll die.”

Well, the thing about Fortune Falls is that all of those things really happen. Mothers do get injured if their child steps on a sidewalk crack. People have died if they forget to hold their breath while they pass a cemetery.

On the other hand, all the good luck charms are true, too. You really can pass a test you didn’t study for if you find a four-leaf clover. And birthday wishes do absolutely come true.

In this town, we find a girl by the name of Sadie Bleeker. You see, some people in Fortune Falls have all the luck. Everything seems to go well for them all the time. When they’re 13, they take a test to see if they are one of the Luckies. If they pass, they get to live in the good part of town.

However, Sadie thinks she is probably one of the Unluckies. Nothing ever goes well for her. She is constantly bumping things, falling down, getting splashed by cars, losing things, the list goes on and on. If she is one of the Unluckies, she’ll have to leave her home and live in a terrible part of town. See, the Lucky people don’t want the Unluckies around. Someone could get hurt.

Sadie’s 13th birthday is coming up, and she really wants to use her birthday wish to help her pass the test.

But then, something unlucky happens. The unluckiest thing she can imagine.

What is it? Read the book and find out. And, by the way, you’ll find out if she has to go to the unluckiest part of town to live out the rest of her days.

It’s the First Day of School…Forever! by R.L. Stine

It’s the First Day of School…Forever! by R.L. Stine

It’s the First Day of School…Forever! by R.L. Stine

AR reading level 3.2; interest level 3rd-5th Grade

A person might argue that the plot in It’s the First Day of School…Forever! is the scariest thing a kid could think of--to be caught in the first day of school forever. When I booktalked this title at a school recently, two boys were in the very same day to ask for this book. Part of its appeal is that R. L. Stine is such a popular author. And part of it is that's it's such an interesting premise. The day keeps restarting and getting more and more bizarre for Artie.

SPOILER ALERT: At the end, readers find out that Artie is a character in a computer game, and a boy has been playing it over and over as the character dies in each iteration. A satisfying twist for kids who like to play a video game--and an interesting way to introduce a point of view to children.

I've included a link below to the trailer that the publisher, Macmillan, put together. It's under a minute and gives some atmosphere without giving away any of the plot. Show it to the group, then launch into this short book talk.


This is by R.L. Stine, the man who wrote Goosebumps, so it’s a little spooky. And—it has an amazing twist at the end.

On the first day of school, Artie falls out of bed and hits his head. Hard.

At breakfast, his little brother sprays syrup everywhere, and he has to go to school with a sticky head.

On his way there, he gets splashed by a puddle that makes him look like he has wet his pants.

That’s bad, but it just gets worse from there. It’s not just the first day of school, it’s the worst day of school.

On the second day of school, Artie falls out of bed and hits his head. Hard.

At breakfast, his little brother sprays syrup everywhere, and he has to go to school with a sticky head.

On his way there, he gets splashed by a puddle that makes him look like he has wet his pants.

Huh? Today is just like the day before.

What is going on? And, can Artie ever get out of it?

Half-Minute Horrors

Half-Minute Horrors

Half-Minute Horrors by Various Authors

AR reading level 4.3; interest level 3rd-6th Grades

Half-Minute Horrors is a collection of super-short scares by authors that kids love, like Lemony Snicket and Neil Gaiman.

Some of the stories in the book are only a paragraph long. Some are only a page or two. Some are comics, and some are picture riddles.

With this book, readers can spend just a minute or two reading, and then have a spooky story they can tell their friends or read aloud. And if one story is too spooky--or too tame, well, there’s another one a half-minute away to read.

This book would also be great to use for Halloween parties or camping trips.

For this booktalk, get some sort of chicken puppet or stuffed animal. You can also print out a photo of a chicken form the internet if you don’t have either of those things. Get something that looks like an egg—it could be one of those plastic Easter eggs. Put them in a little bag, and you’re ready to go.


This next book is called Half-Minute Horrors.

How many seconds is half a minute? (Call on someone in the class to answer.)

Thirty seconds, right. This book is a collection of very short, very spooky stories that only take a thirty seconds to read.

I’m going to read one of them to you, but first I want to show you the characters. (Choose a child to come up and pull the chicken and the egg out of the bag.)

What do you think? Can someone tell a spooky story about a chicken and an egg that is only thirty seconds long? Let’s give it a try.

(Read Jerry Spinelli’s story on page 3.)

That is one mean chicken.

If you like spooky stories, this is a great book to have around. The stories are super short, just right for reading to your friends to see if you can scare them.

© 2016 Adele Jeunette