6 Authors Who Wrote Dark Children’s Stories

Sometimes the best children’s authors are those who don’t mind showing kids something dark or a little subversive.

Here’s a look at 6 popular authors who created brilliant and dark children’s stories.

1. Maurice Sendak

Source: Associated Press/Susan Regan

Sendak never minded showing kids things they were supposedly too young for.

“Where the Wild Things Are" featured scary monsters.

“The Night Kitchen” included a naked boy flying through the air who almost gets cooked by bakers with Hitler-esque mustaches.

“We’re All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy” followed a band of homeless kids fighting giant rats.

At the same time, things usually ended happily in Sendak’s books.

As he said many times, he always tried to tell kids the truth: life is hard sometimes and we must recognize that to survive it.

2. Tim Burton

Source: Gage Skidmore

While he’s best-known for his movies, Burton did create illustrations and poems (some possibly co-written with other people) for “The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories.”

This book collects silly, tragic stories about unusual kids trying to survive in the normal world.

Even ignoring “Oyster Boy,” Burton’s movies often feel like children’s story.

“Edward Scissorhands” could easily be described as a fairytale reset in a 1950’s suburb.

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” may best be described as a children’s movie for all ages.

3. Roald Dahl

Source: Carl Van Vechten

You could describe Roald Dahl as Sendak for older kids.

Never gothic, but always willing to show things like death and suffering.

The villains always get strange and unusual punishments – from getting squashed by giant fruit in “James and the Giant Peach” to turning into giant fruit (well, berries anyway) in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

The heroes have to deal with grotesque situations – from living with semi-abusive parents in “Mathilda” to almost getting eaten by giants in “The BFG.”

However, like the heroes in a Speilberg film, the kids always somehow manage to keep going.

They survive, they thrive.

4. Neil Gaiman

Source: Kyle Cassidy

Gaiman’s written more or less everything (from comic books to song lyrics), including some unconventional children’s books.

“Wolves in the Walls” (later the basis for a children’s opera) involved wolves coming out of a little girl’s walls and attacking her.

His picture book “Chu’s Day” was based on the idea of writing something subversive but cute enough it couldn’t be banned in China.

Gaiman’s most notable children’s book, “Coraline,” is a sort of horror novel about a girl who discovers an alternate world which hopefully won’t hold her captive forever.

“Coraline” not only sold well, but also helped some women survive childhood trauma.

5. Charles Addams

Source: NPR

While not strictly a children’s author, Addams’ numerous comic strips combined childlike humor and dark subjects in incredible ways.

From dark comedy to riffs on horror classics like “Sleepy Hollow”, Addams’ imagination knew very few bounds.

His comic strips about a strange family living in a Victorian house became the basis for “The Addams Family” and its various spinoffs and sequels.

6. Edward Gorey

source: Christopher Seufert

Ironically this guy almost collaborated with another writer on this list.

Edward Gorey created many illustrations and children’s books, usually with gothic Victorian atmospheres.

Some stories were darkly comic, like “The Haunted Tea-Cosy,” a parody of “The Christmas Carol.”

Others were darker, like “The Loathsome Couple” a serial killer story collected in “Amphigory Also.”

In every case, these stories had highly intellectual, mock British atmospheres which make them fun even for adults.