BOO! What scared you? A curious post…

Tomorrow is Halloween. So, of course my post topic pondering drew me to the obvious, “Favorite Halloween Picture Books of Yore.” Which then led me to skip down memory lane and remember my favorites.

But that all seemed lovely, predictable, and over-done.

So, then I began to wonder about what picture books really did scare me when I was little, and why?

They were not Halloween books. They were not even about monsters, or goblins, or being alone.

The book that scared me the most as a child was, The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss. A story where a large animal comes to the child’s home when their mom is away and destroys everything. It terrified me. It was that feeling of utter loss of control, destruction, something bad happening to people that I loved, and fear of getting in trouble. It also was the fact that I knew that it wasn’t supposed to frighten me, but it did.

So, I forced myself to think about this further, remembering how afraid my younger brother was of Where the Wild Things Are, yet had a poster of it up in his room. I remembered that the Halloween books that I read to my children never really scared them, they excited them. And I thought about picture books that I thought my kids would love, but there was something that, as an adult, I didn’t think about that made them feel afraid.

Halloween books usually have some of the best page turns ever. They are often good books to study and draw inspiration from for using in any books for pacing and building suspense. Talk about a perfect structure and set up.

Today, I thought it would be fun to turn this post over to you. If you can give this topic a bit of a think and comment below on an unexpected picture book that scared you as a child?

I would love to share your thoughts.

And Happy Halloween, everyone!


Boo! Thank you!

Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Jennifer is the illustrator and author of several acclaimed picture books. Most recently is Always by My Side, 'A Stuffie Story', which she wrote and illustrated. She also is both the author and illustrator of Playing Possum, and Blue Ethel. Jennifer illustrated Gondra’s Treasure, written by Newbery award winner Linda Sue Park. As well as, Sometimes You Fly, by Newbery medalist, Katherine Applegate. She illustrated Yaks Yak, Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park, The Inventor's Secret, What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, Rabbi Benjamin's Buttons, by Alice B. McGinty, and The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, by Chris Kurtz.


  1. Thing One & Thing Two had starring roles in my repeat childhood (& up) nightmare. But only once I’d seen the animated version (not from the book). I didn’t come across the PB that creeped me out until my youngest was in pre-school. I was co-op helping the day the teacher shared ‘The Three Robbers’ by Tomi Ungerer. I could not believe she was reading such an ominous story. The relief at the end was not worth the disturbing lead up. My daughter was fine, but I still cringe about that book.

  2. The Rainbow Goblins was the one that scared me. It was a strange and beautiful book, and I read it over and over, even though it creeped me out every time.

  3. When I was little my mother insisted that my favorite title was “The Bundle Book” by Ruth Krauss. I asked her to read it over and over, but did that mean it was my favorite? No! I just didn’t “get” the story. I was worried about and frightened of the mystified mother who did not recognize that the “bundle” in the bed was her own child. I continued to ask for re-readings, hoping eventually I’d figure out what it was all about.

  4. The Wicked Witch of the East and her flying monkeys gave me the creeps after reading the book THE WIZARD OF OZ. And then when I saw the movie…nightmares galore!

  5. Pierre, by Maurice Sendak, is my all time favorite picture book. I am just now realizing that I loved it because it scared me. His parents left him at home and a lion came and ate him. Eeek! It is so interesting how we love what terrifies us!!!

  6. I understand this completely. When we adopted our daughter from China, there was really only one picture book addressing this issue. Our daughter always got unusually quiet when we read it to her. Eventually I learned she thought that the baby was being returned at the end of the story. No wonder she grew tense. Yes, children hear differently than we think.

  7. I can’t really think of a book that scared me as a child, but I distinctly remember reading The Giving Tree in Catholic school/catechism classes, and being disturbed by it. It still bothers me to this day.

  8. Oh that’s interesting, Maria! That book didn’t impact me that way, but now that you mention it, I don’t really know why it didn’t? Thank you for sharing and Happy Halloween!

  9. The Cat in the Hat also scared me for the same reasons. A stranger comes in and messes up everything. The tension and promise to get it cleaned up before Mom gets back was too much. Then they had to keep the secret that a stranger was in the house! The tension never ended.

  10. Fellow Minnesota author, Lisa Bullard has a great Halloween book: Trick-or-Treat on Milton Street. Kids and adults alike can relate to this story. My kids loved it.

  11. I was terrified by Nancy Drew mysteries, but I steadily slogged through them. I think I read them when I was too young–trying to be like my big sister!

  12. I can’t remember being scared of any books as a kid, but I didn’t like the Dr. Seuss books because of the art.

    • Hi Kathy, it’s interesting to me that you didn’t like the artwork in Dr. Seuss’s books. As I said, I was afraid of the Cat in the Hat, but I did love Green Eggs and Ham. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  13. Have you ever read Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann? It is subtitled Or Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures and it is anything but pretty or funny. I used to suck my thumb and a babysitter read me the story of a child who was warned not to suck their thumb but did and the tailor came in and cut off his thumbs! There are stories even more horrible in the book. It scares me still just to think about it!

  14. I can’t think of any that scared me. I loved Where the Wild Things Are but it scared my best friend.
    I can’t think of any that scared my daughter either but she never finished Black Beauty. She cried and was so afraid for what was happening to the poor horse. To this day she refuses to read any of it.

  15. Great post Jennifer. And I so agree – the Cat in the Hat made me very uncomfortable and frustrated, yet I didn’t really recognize that until your post made me think about it more deeply. Isn’t it interesting the different ways picture books can make us feel?

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