It's bedtime, and time to choose a story; you opt for the fairytale Hansel and Gretel, planning to spend a few minutes reading as your little one slips into dreamland. Before you know it, however, she's wide awake, whimpering about evil witches and treacherous forests. Sleep is the furthest thing from her mind—which means you can kiss your own plans for shut-eye goodbye.
Though you can probably recite your kid's favorite bedtime story by heart, have you ever stopped to consider which books to avoid reading right before bed? Distinguishing the scary from the tame can be can mean the difference between a good night's sleep for the both of you and tearful fright in the wee hours of morning. Check out our list of scary books for kids to skip for nightmare-free rest.
- Hansel and Gretel by Jacob Grimm. While this German fairytale is a classic for kids around the globe, the story's dark content is probably a no-go for bedtime. Despite the kid-friendly image of the ultimate gingerbread house, the tale's sinister tellings of a cannibalistic witch housed deep within the forest set the stage for anything but sweet dreams.
- The Witches by Roald Dahl. In this oft-banned British book, Roald Dahl gives a voice to many children's worst fears as he crafts a macabre narrative of an evil witch army bent on eliminating as many children as possible. Dahl's detailed descriptions of the witches—vile creatures with clawed fingers, bald heads and no toes—are sure to keep little ones up late in fear.
- Goosebumps by R.L. Stine. This aptly titled series will cause more than goosebumps when it's read to kids of all ages after hours. With titles like Welcome to Dead House, Monster Blood, and Night of the Living Dummy, Stine spares no expense in crafting spine-tingling horrors that will send chills up even the sleepiest of spines.
- The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. This may seem like a safe bet based on the material in the Disney movie, but Andersen's original tells a lurid saga of a sea princess in search of an eternal soul who's willing to give up her tongue to a cruel Sea Witch in exchange for a pair of human legs that keep her in perpetual, gut-wrenching pain. Keep your little princess safe by saving this gruesome story for daytime.
- Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard and James Marshall. Between homework, peer pressure, and missing the bus, it's likely that your kid already has a number of school-related worries keeping her up at night. Spare her the trouble of adding a new one to the list by nixing this story of Ms. Nelson, a kind school teacher who mysteriously disappears from the classroom, only to be replaced by every kid's worst nightmare: super-villain substitute Viola Swamp.
- Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault. In the categorical example of altruism gone amiss, this French folktale tells a frightening story of a young girl lured towards a wolf masquerading as her grandmother. In this particularly morbid take on the classic, Red Riding Hood ends up eaten by the wolf in her grandmother's bed with no happy ending in sight. Unless you want your daughter avoiding her bed (and her nana) for months to come, keep Perrault's classic far away from your bedtime routine.
- Rumpelstiltskin by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. This story of a wizened little man who can work wonders with a spinning wheel may seem like bedtime material at first, but several dark plot twists quickly spin it into something that's anything but relaxing. Between Rumpelstiltskin's threats to steal the queen's first-born child and his eerie song-and-dance routines by firelight, the title character of this tale packs major nightmare potential.
- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. At first glance, Dr. Seuss's light-hearted verses seem to be perfect for sending little ones off to sleep. While that may be the case with Green Eggs and Ham, The Lorax paints a darker picture of mass pollution and environmental destruction wrought by none other than mankind itself. With so many cheerier Seuss stories for young readers to enjoy, it's best to stick to The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who! for bedtime.
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. Beneath the whimsical words and silly scenarios of this favorite British book lies a scary story about an island bombarded by food from the sky. If your kid is the type to take everything she hears literally, it's best to spare her the story of the slow destruction of the town of Chewandswallow, especially if you've served spaghetti and meatballs for dinner!
- The Call of the Wild by Jack London. Jack London's iconic American tale spares no detail in chronicling the life of Buck, a mistreated sled dog who abandons civilization to hack it on his own in the great outdoors. Though it paints an admirable picture of survival, London's description of life's most primal elements (including vicious dog fights and vengeful killing) does not make for pleasant night-time reading.
In addition to the ten picks above, keep your eye out for scary books for kids that play on your child's unique fears or insecurities. In particular, watch for tales that seem light-hearted at first, but contain subtle elements of the macabre that could terrify a younger or less-seasoned audience. When in doubt, simply be sure to observe the golden rule of bedtime stories: avoid the Brothers Grimm at all costs!