6 Children’s Books Darker Than You Remember

stack of books on brown wooden table

Children’s literature is often thought of as light and whimsical, but some of them may surprise parents rereading them for the first time since their youth.  Many books are darker than we remember with themes of death, loss, and even horror. In this article, we will explore 12 children’s books that are darker than you remember.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

This beloved children’s book tells the story of a young boy named Max who goes on a wild adventure to a land of monsters. Consider, though, that Max is sent to his room without supper, and his wild imagination takes him to a place where he is in danger and must confront his own fears.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Ah, the story of a tree that gives everything it has to a boy. This book is often seen as a tale of generosity and love, but it is also a story about exploitation and the destruction of nature as the boys grows up, moves on, and leaves the tree as nothing but a stump.


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Charlotte’s Web is a classic that tells the story of a pig named Wilbur and his unlikely friendship with a spider named Charlotte. While the book is heartwarming and easy to remember because of the anthropomorphic animals, it also deals with themes of death and loss head on with Charlotte dying at the end of the book and Wilbur left to mourn her passing

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

A young girl falls down a rabbit hole and enters a strange and fantastical world – that’s terrifying in many places. Lost in the book’s whimsy is a lost child confronting madness, loss, and untrustworthy, volatile, and scheming characters at every turn.


The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen

Many are surprised to learn this story isn’t a Disney original but rather a classic fairy tale from Hans Christian Andersen. While the story has been adapted into a popular Disney movie, the original tale is much darker. The mermaid sacrifices everything for the prince, including her voice, and is ultimately rejected by him.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

While the book about the young girl discovering telekinetic powers  is funny and heartwarming, it gets started with the titular character in an abusive and neglectful home. Matilda’s parents are cruel, and though she finds refuge in books and her kind-hearted teacher, Miss Honey, she must still be wary of plenty of others in her life.

These books are devoured by families at bedtimes around the world, so it’s clear the darkness within isn’t so great to scare or to scar. Still, be mindful of these books around the young ones and, should you reread them as an adult, appreciate how your perspective has changed with time.

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