5 Tips to Explore Gothic Fiction with Children

Image of girl running in woods by Alex Grodkiewicz on Unsplash.com

Can you remember the first scary story you ever read? I can. I was young, and the book was Night of the Living Dummy (R.L. Stine). At some point I was given a talking Slappy the Dummy bookmark. Due to temperamental batteries (or pure evil) the dummy would come alive in the middle of the night with phrases such as 'I can see you'. I would lie awake convinced he would crawl up my bed covers… I screamed the place down after that and wouldn’t rest until Slappy was quarantined in the shed.

These books evoke curiosity, adrenaline, and excitement whilst always offering an explanation for events

Although the Goosebumps series was scary, it was an exciting, adrenaline-invoking scary. A desire for young children to experience this excitement is one of the reasons for the immense popularity of children’s Gothic fiction.

I believe this genre should be fundamental to a child’s literary development. As adults, we think nothing of reading fairy tales to a child. Similar to fairy tales and adventure stories, there are monsters, challenges and resolutions in children’s Gothic. These books do not consist of extreme gore, or result in paralyzing terror for the reader. They evoke curiosity, adrenaline, and excitement whilst always offering an explanation for events. Gothic is the excitement of the unknown. This enables a child to learn more about themselves and their tolerance for fear.

Having engaged with primary 7 pupils in the past, their attraction to Gothic fiction was considerable. I recently discussed this topic with a local young adult reading group in Dundee. We explored several ideas on how best to approach children’s Gothic, and agreed on similar advice. As adults, educators and parents, we want to invite children into a new storyland. A land of ghosts, ghouls, and imagination...

Children’s Gothic is a natural next step from book series such as Harry Potter or Percy Jackson

Keep an eye on them, but try to allow freedom of choice

Allowing children autonomy offers them a level of responsibility. Children’s Gothic is a natural next step from book series such as Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. This genre possesses the ability to attract new generations of young readers. Whilst it is important to maintain a level of oversight, this has to be in a way that remains positive to both the genre and the child. Why not try introducing a child to the first book of a series? Skulduggery Pleasant (Derek Landy), Stitch Head (Guy Bass) and A Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket) are all excellent novels designed to gently introduce children to the genre. Approaching a series rather than a standalone book guides the child. The name of the author sticks in their mind and they know what to choose next.

Stay well informed

I have always been a big believer in the fact that there is no such thing as a non-reader, only a reader who hasn’t found the right book yet. Stay informed with brand new titles: there are many sources online or in libraries aimed at all ages. The Gothic library is a fantastic website full of blogs and book reviews on Gothic literature for all ages. A child who loves adventure stories with a magical twist may wish to try Coraline (Neil Gaiman). For a young adult Twilight enthusiast the Beautiful Creatures series (Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl) is an excellent next step.

Check out your local library

There is no greater gift to a child than that of a library card. Use your local libraries! The staff are extremely well informed and libraries are frequently buying the newest titles of popular authors in all genres. Many libraries run reading groups, coding groups or general literary-related social events. Be aware of your local branch, and pop in and have a chat with the staff.

Different formats

Sharing a story based on collective anxieties allows you to chat openly about personal fears.

Popular titles are often made into a film. Why not start with a movie marathon, then read the books together and compare the two? Children are never too old to be read to. Reading stories aloud develops speaking skills whilst bringing the story alive! Speaking of which, why not ask your local library about available audiobooks? Audio format allows the child (and the adult) to read passages aloud from the physical book, and then take a break, letting the audio version continue.

Be honest

Sharing a story based on collective anxieties allows you to chat openly about personal fears. Using this genre to open up with each other furthers a bond of communication and honesty, whilst assisting in the emotional development of a child. If an adult is open about childhood anxieties, this helps the child realize that they are not alone. Whilst this genre frequently explores adventure and mythical monsters, it also addresses topics such as mental health and cancer. A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness) and Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot (Horatio Clare) are excellent bibliotherapeutic novels aimed at supporting children through challenging moments in their life.

So what are you waiting for? Go on that ghost hunt, explore new fantastical worlds with your children, and happy reading!

For great recommendations for readers of all ages, check out our lists of ghostly books

Top image by Alex Grodkiewicz on Unsplash.

Lauren Christie

Lauren Christie is a PhD student studying the Gothic influence in children’s and young adult literature at the University of Dundee. Her doctoral research explores Gothic literature from the eighteenth century to the modern day, whilst considering the wider benefits of promoting reading for pleasure, and formally embedding Gothic literature within Scottish schools. Lauren’s previous academic background specialises in modern horror fiction, with a professional background working with local communities and libraries investigating children's reading choices. She is a current Jacqueline M. Albers fellow in children’s literature for the Reinberger Children’s Centre at Kent State University, Ohio. Lauren was published in the inaugural issue of the online journal, Pennywise Dreadful, with an article exploring “Stephen King and the Illusion of Childhood”.