I judge books by their cover. Don’t @ me.
Admittedly, I know nothing about the nuances of cover design, illustration, or typography, but I do have an eidetic memory when it comes to why I buy the books I do (spoiler: it’s the cover).
And so, here is a definitive ranking of the top 13 books in my personal MG horror collection:
13. NOW YOU SEE ME… by J. B. Mason & S. H. Stephens. Cover art by Katie Wood. I know middle grade horror is still horror, but this was a cute cover. The sparkles around ghost-boy, the funky clothes. But hold the smartphone. None of these characters look too happy. And no wonder. This was a deceptively dark story.
12. THE MONSTERS OF MORELY MANOR: A MADCAP ADVENTURE by Bruce Coville. Cover & illustrations by John Berg. Shades of Green? I’m in. So cute. But also a little disturbing given the suggested scale (see quarter). Small things give me the jibblies. (UPDATE: Turns out John Berg is also responsible for some of the Garbage Pail Kids. You Guys).
11. HAUNTED STUFF: DEMONIC DOLLS, SCREAMING SKULLS & OTHER CREEPY COLLECTIBLES by Stacey Graham. Cover design by Percolator Graphic Design. Now, I know this isn’t necessarily middle grade, but this cover would have sold me even in second grade. WHAT IS IT WITH DOLLS? OMG.
10. THE GHOUL NEXT DOOR by Suzanne Nelson. Cover art by Liz Adams. Those four letters in the window brought me back to that episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark in which “help me” was written backwards over and over. The shades of purple also resonated for some reason. Cute, but creepy.
9. GOOSEBUMPS: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DUMMY by R. L. Stine. Cover art by the inimitable Tim Jacobus. I don’t know what’s worse: the eyes or the mouth slit. Or the shiny reflection on the cheek. FU nightmare dummy. But I still needed it. These books were not allowed in my house. Mom thought the covers were gross. She was right. But that doesn’t mean the story didn’t deliver. Boy, howdy, did it ever.
8. YOU’RE INVITED TO A CREEPOVER: THE RIDE OF YOUR LIFE by P.J. Night (text by Ann Hodgman). Cover art by Aly Turner (Note: I could only find an “Aly Fell” when I looked up Aly Turner and the style is virtually identical. Let me know if you find a page for Aly Turner, though!). Stranger danger to the infinity power. Ugh. Why would you go on this ride? I know I’ve seen this guy at every grocery store, ever. INSTANT WANT. (Unrelated: I may or may not have a hero complex of defeating a kidnapper).
7. WAIT TILL HELEN COMES by Mary Downing Hahn. Cover Illustration by Larry Rostant. Nope. Noope. Noooope. FU LITTLE GIRL IN THE GRAVEYARD. Sold.
6. THE NIGHT GARDENER by Jonathan Auxier. Cover Illustration by Patrick Arrasmith. Are you kidding me with this tentacled death tree? Plus, stranger danger carved out in silver? Sold.
5. THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES: 36 TALES BRIEF & SINISTER by S. Bachmann, K. Catmull, C. Legrand, & E. Trevayne. Cover Art by Alexander Jansson. Hand lettering by Ryan O’Rourke. I want to go to there. Sky art and/or fantasy air machine art are an instant win for me. I’d live in this thing if I could. Couple that with the subtitle, I instantly knew this was going to be a good read. My mom got it for me for my birthday. This year. At my request.
4. A HOUSE CALLED AWFUL END: THE EDDIE DICKENS TRILOGY by Philip Ardagh. Cover and illustrations by David Roberts. This is straight out of my dream journal. It’s like Edward Gorey and Tim Burton had a baby and that baby crawled into my dream journal.
3. YOU’RE INVITED TO A CREEPOVER: NO TRICK-OR-TREATING! by P. J. Night (text by Ellie O’Ryan). Cover art by Aly Turner. As kid-friendly as Turner’s art is, I’m a sucker for halloween. And that freaking girl is see-through. And those are some pretty nasty jack-o-lanterns BUT WHY IS THE GIRL SEE-THROUGH OMG.
2. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK by Alvin Schwartz. Drawings and cover illustration by Stephen Gammell. This gorific horribleness was all but forbidden in my house growing up. I think the airy sketches caught my eye, but that little house in the background got me. The stuff of nightmares.
1: ALL THE LOVELY BAD ONES by Mary Downing Hahn. Cover illustration by Greg Spalenka. Are you kidding me with this matron of hell and ghost children? Sold.