A Shiver down the Spine

By our Guest Blogger, Ryan Thompson.

For children, I'm sure Halloween is more closely related to trick-or-treating, and the gratuitous promise of sweets, than anything else.

It is also, however, the perfect time to delve into the ever so slightly disconcerting side of children’s literature.

Scary or unusual settings often capture the imagination of a young reader; essential, as recent research has highlighted the sharp decline in children reading for fun.

More recently, author and comedian David Walliams has supported the creation of more than 200 primary school reading clubs. There is no better way of encouraging a child to practice writing than reading fine books.

This list of works that follow will help welcome the darkening nights, and are best read snuggly protected from a howling gale.

Pobby and Dingan

This is a gentle start to the list, and we haven’t included it solely because Ben Rice, the author, is from our neck of the woods, in Devon.

It is a charming story about a type of ghost that accompanies many children: imaginary friends. It asks what happens when young Kellyanne ‘loses’ hers, named Pobby and Dingan.

Her panic, and the delightful way it envelopes a small Australian town, provide a compelling and original drama. It evolves with haste, yet without feeling rushed, but hinges on a tragic turn of events.

The writing style is rich with slang and colloquialisms. This makes it ideal for a budding writer to learn how to bring characters to life. It won the 2001 Somerset Maugham Prize.

Abomination

Secrets hushed up by a closed community, schoolgirl Martha bullied for her ragged clothes, and a locked cellar she is not allowed to visit.

I read Robert Swindells’s novel, which won the Whitbread children’s book prize, at school over a dozen years ago, and haven’t forgotten it.

This is testament to a story that is frank and realistic, a parallel world any of us could imagine inhabiting. Like any good horror, it is this closeness to reality which makes it so chilling.

Best of all, what the “abomination” actually is remains a mystery for much of the novel. This will keep any reader devouring the pages.

Suffice to say, we, and Martha, learn what is lurking in the cellar.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Written by Irish author John Boyne, this searing account explores a friendship that develops between a Jewish boy in Nazi concentration camp, and the son of a military commandant.

As well as selling over five million copies, it attracted criticism for posing the moral suggestion that the young – the commandant’s son – remain innocent when raised amongst terror.

Nonetheless, Boyne believes ‘good literature should open up a debate’.

The novel deftly brings the two boys close in both proximity and appearance; removing the razor wire between them, and shaving their heads.

It is a classic example of fates becoming irreversibly intertwined, a facet not just of horror, but also the romance genre. The story has been adapted as a film, as well.

Lord of the Flies

A perennial GCSE text, William Golding’s 1954 dystopian classic is laden with probing ideas. It juxtaposes individualism with groupthink, and shines a light upon the devil resting on our shoulder.

On an uninhabited island, adrift from the authority of their parents, a group of British children regress from forming a fledgling attempt at rescue, to the worship of a bloodied pig’s head, the “Lord of the Flies”.

The potential for barbarity within children’s minds is drawn between Ralph, who comes to power through election, and Jack, who is never far from solving problems with violence. The election soon loses relevance, as the boys split into prowling tribes.

Despite the allegories of war and politics, there is also the unmistakeable beat of the law of the playground. This is felt harshly by Piggy, caught in the middle. As a character study, it remains remarkably fresh and contemporary.


We hope you’ll find the time to explore these books during October. Reading really doesn’t need to feel like a chore and can inspire the minds of future writers. To find out how Beam Tuition can help your child’s creative writing or English in general - contact us.