5 Stephen King Books Your Kid Could (and Should) Read
I know before I even hit the publish button on this post that most people are going to raise their eyebrows. I mean, Stephen King books for kids?
Stephen King is known for writing horror stories. He’s known for writing gruesome scenes and grotesque villains.
He’s also known for creating multidimensional protagonists. The good guys who, through their flaws, show that it’s possible to persevere in uncertain circumstances. To come out on top.
He writes about the epic battle between good and evil.
And in today’s world, these lessons are invaluable.
I’m not telling you to give your kid a copy of Pet Cemetery (although that was the first Stephen King book I ever read, right around second grade).
What I will say is that you know your kid. There may be some advanced material in these books. If you don’t think they can handle something like this, then check out this post on 20 Classic Children’s Books that Teach Valuable Lessons. That’s probably more up your alley.
As I said, I read a lot of his books when I was younger. Rereading them as an adult I was amazed at the stuff I never even picked up on.
Because I was reading them for the story. I was getting lost in the different adventures. And I was meeting some fantastic characters that I still look up to today.
So if you think your kid’s up for it, here are the top 5 Stephen King books that they could, and definitely should, be reading.
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Stephen King wrote this book based on a fictional book in his Dark Tower series. But you don’t have to be a Dark Tower fan to find value in it. To the constant readers, though, it’s a definite must-have.
I will admit, the pictures are a little off — a little Stephen King — for a picture book. But my toddler hasn’t noticed this at all. He saw the train and was sold.
This is the story of Engineer Bob and his best friend, Charlie the Choo Choo train. The two traveled together back and forth across middle America for years. All the children would come running when they heard Charlie’s train whistle. Even the president of the train company took his daughter for a ride!
One day, a new train’s brought on board to replace Charlie. Engineer Bob refused to drive the new train, and him and Charlie were retired to the junkyard.
Charlie becomes depressed and eventually stops talking to Engineer Bob. But Engineer Bob never gives up on him, and in his spare time, he continues to take care of Charlie.
In a turn of fate, the new train breaks down, and the president’s daughter has to get to her recital.
Engineer Bob pleads for them to put Charlie back on the track. During the trip, they all remember how amazing Charlie the Choo Choo is. All the children along the route come running to see when they hear his whistle.
Rather than retiring Charlie back to the junkyard, he and Engineer Bob get moved to a park in Kansas, where they still are today.
Engineer Bob’s an eternal optimist. Even after they get moved to the junkyard, he continues to take care of Charlie. He never loses hope in his friend or in their dreams of racing through the country again.
Charlie, on the other hand, becomes depressed in the junkyard and he stops talking all together toward the end. It is only once he’s back on the track that his zest returns. This is a powerful reminder that although you may be going through a rough patch, things will eventually get better.
It’s a tale of friendship, optimism, and, trains sure to win the heart of any child who reads it.
A lot of people don’t know about this book, but it’s an epic fantasy that takes place in Delian, Mid-World (before the world moved on).
There are also some familiar names from King’s other Mid-World fantasy series, for those of you who geek out on that stuff as much as I do.
Delian is ruled by King Roland and Queen Sasha. Roland’s advisor is the one and only Flagg, who, of course, tries to persuade Roland to rule with greed and cruelty.
Their first son, Peter is born and raised to be an honest boy, and a noble future king.
Flagg is threatened by this and arranges for Sasha to die in childbirth with their second child, Thomas. He turns Thomas against his brother, teaching him to be jealous and vengeful.
Flagg then poisons Roland, frames Peter, and has him arrested and locked away in the highest tower in the kingdom. Thomas witnesses Flagg framing his brother but chooses to ignore it because he has grown to hate him.
The now twelve-year-old Thomas is crowned king and allows Flagg the power to run the kingdom in cruel and harsh ways.
Eventually, Peter escapes the tower, goes to confront Flagg, but ends up at Flagg’s mercy.
Thomas shows up to defend his brother and saves him and his kingdom, freeing them from the evil Flagg once and for all.
Peter’s the good son. He always chooses right from wrong and lives a noble life. Being wronged by Flagg and his brother is a powerful lesson — that bad things can happen to good people.
But all throughout his imprisonment, Peter remains good. He doesn’t blame his brother. Instead, he hopes to escape and save his brother from the situation he’s trapped in. We can use this to teach our children to persevere when bad things happen. That no matter what happens, you should keep your head up and continue doing what is right and living a virtuous life.
A lot can be learned from Thomas, too.
It’s a study on what can happen if you allow jealousy and hatred to guide your decisions. About how negativity can build on itself until all the sudden you are in a situation that you can’t control. And can’t get out of.
It also shows that even if you do let negativity dictate your life, that it is never too late to change that.
The Wind Through the Keyhole is technically book 4.5 in the Dark Tower series, though it was released after the series was finished.
You don’t need to read the entire Dark Tower series for this book to make sense. You should read it because it is hands down the best series ever written. But this is a kid’s list.
The Wind Through the Keyhole is a story within a story.
Roland and his ka-tet have just left Kansas after their encounter with Charlie the Choo Choo’s crazed cousin, Blaine.
A starkblast (basically a tornado that freezes everything in its path) is coming, and they have to take shelter. While waiting out the storm, Roland tells them a story from his youth.
The Story of Young Roland
Young Roland lives in a medieval world in the city of Gilead. He comes from a long line of gunslingers who are charged with upholding the laws of the kingdom.
A story comes to Gilead of a skin-man — or werewolf — terrorizing a small town on the outskirts of the kingdom. Roland and one of his best friends are sent to look into it.
After they arrive, another brutal attack happens, and a young boy, Bill, is the sole survivor.
Roland takes him into the town where he will safely be able to identify who the skin-man is.
While they’re waiting, Roland tells Bill a story from a faraway place.
The Wind Through the Keyhole
This story takes place in a small town on the edge of an ironwood forest.
A young boy named Tim lives there with his mother and father.
His father dies in a suspicious lumberjack accident. His father’s partner then marries his mother to save their family from the tax man.
The partner is a horrible man, though.
The tax man lures Tim into the ironwood. He shows him a vision of his new step-father beating his mother within an inch of her life, leaving her blind. He later reveals that his step-father also killed his father.
A mischievous fairy appears and leads Tim further into the forest in search of magic to heal his mother.
After fleeing from a dragon and being helped by swamp people, Tim arrives at a locked dogan. In a cage nearby is a tiger with the key around his neck.
A starkblast is approaching, and Tim has no choice but to befriend the Tiger. The two ride out the storm together under a protective blanket.
The next morning it’s revealed that the tiger is the magician Maerlyn, trapped in the tiger’s body by dark magic. He then gives Tim the potion needed to heal his mother’s sight.
Roland is an extremely complex character, and the side of him that we see him in this book is not enough to even begin an analysis of him. We’ll come back to him in a bit.
The two young boys who are in each of the stories have a couple parallels, though.
They are each grieving. They are each left in a position where they’re confused and forced to make adult decisions at far too young an age.
Bill takes the solemn, dutiful approach to this decision making. He knows that he’s the only one who can identify the person who killed his entire family. He’s a scared young boy who draws on Roland’s story to find the strength to pull through.
Tim takes the reactive approach. He reacts to his grief and allows himself to be sent on a journey that is meant to kill him. Rather than thinking things through, he acts on impulse.
While things work out for him in the end, his tumultuous journey teaches the reader to slow down and think things through. To weigh out your options. And to look to your elders for guidance and support.
This is hands-down my favorite book on this list. It has action. It has adventure. And it has a bad ass 12-year-old protagonist that any kid would look up to.
Jack Sawyer is a young kid living in New Hampshire with his dying mother.
Unbeknownst to Jack, there is a parallel world to his. In this world, his mother’s twinner is also dying.
Kicking around an empty amusement park one day, he meets a man named Speedy, who reveals to Jack that he has to save them both.
In most cases, when someone dies in one of these worlds, their twinner will die in the other world shortly after.
But Jack’s twinner died years ago. This gives him the unique ability to flip back and forth between the two worlds.
His mother’s twinner is the Queen of the Territories, and if she dies, some pretty horrible people are going to take over. And these people know Jack is out there and what he’s capable of.
Speedy teaches Jake how to flip between the worlds. He then sends him on a quest to California to find the Talisman that will save both his mother and her twinner, the Queen.
Needless to say, Jack has quite the journey across America.
Along the way, he meets Wolf, a werewolf from the territories. The two become fast friends fighting off the bad guys who will do anything to make sure the Queen, and her twinner, die.
Jack is one of the most multi-dimensional pre-teen characters I have ever come across. He is torn apart that his mother is dying. He is scared out of his mind that he is about to be sent on a journey across America with crazed lunatics chasing after him.
There is an incredible message of hope and perseverance in this story. Jack does what he has to do to get to the Talisman. He works where he has to and steals when he can’t work.
There is also the message that sometimes life will deal you the worst hand imaginable, and all you can do is just keep going.
And there is also the message that no matter how small or insignificant you may be, you have the power to do the right thing. To save the world. Or maybe just one person indirectly. But you still have that power — don’t forget it.
While this may not be the longest book on this list, it’s definitely the most difficult.
On the surface, it’s a pretty straightforward story of a gunslinger chasing a man in black across the desert.
But there are quite a few abstract ideas in the story that your child may or may not catch on to, so keep that in mind. (Hell, there are quite a few abstract ideas that an adult may not catch on to, either.)
This is the first book in the Dark Tower series. It opens with Roland chasing the man in black.
Roland lives in a parallel world to our own, though far in the future. So far, in fact, that the world has moved on. There are few people left in this world, and many who do exist are mutants from a past nuclear war.
This is also the world that the dark tower exists in, and Roland is on a quest to find it and protect it because he’s the last gunslinger.
When he comes to a way station, he finds Jake Chambers there, lost and alone.
Jake had just died in our world.
He has no memory of how he came into the Gunslinger’s world, and Roland only finds out by hypnotizing him.
Jake continues on with the Gunslinger and begins to become haunted by the thought that Roland is going to abandon him.
In a pivotal moment, Jake is left hanging off the edge of a cliff. Roland must choose between saving the boy and continuing on his quest.
Jake makes the decision for him, saying, “Go then. There are other worlds than these.” He then let’s go, ending his chapter in this book.
Don’t worry, we’ll meet him again.
Ronald then catches the man in black. They sit down to talk and when Roland awakes, ten years have passed.
As I’ve already said, Roland is an extremely complex character.
For the purposes of this article, it is best to leave the analysis to what a kid could take away from meeting him.
At the beginning of the book, we get a flashback to a town Roland had passed through already. After being tricked by the man in black, he is forced to kill every person in the town. From this, it becomes clear that Roland is a man bound by duty, forced to do what needs to be done.
There are other instances where we catch a glimpse of the man behind the gun: while he’s hypnotizing Jake, speaking to a demon, and listening to the man in black. And each of these end with Roland choosing his quest over anything else.
This is a lesson of a man who can only see one thing in his life. He’s lost sight of everything else in the process. And this becomes even more apparent later in the series.
At the end of the novel, the Gunslinger wakes ten years later to a pile of bones next to him. This can be read as a metaphor. That all his quest has left him with is a skeleton of his past and a decade of his life gone.
Or it can be read as a metaphor of things coming full circle, which ties in well with an overarching theme of the entire series. And it’s a perfect segway into the next novel in the series.
If Roland represents the anguish of a human heart, Jake represents hope. Hope that there’s something better in the world to fight for. And hope that a man blinded by his own desires may stop, however momentarily, and see the good in the world.
Jake is also a lesson in courage. We see a lot more of this when he is reintroduced into the series later on. But you can still see that this kid has some guts. And any kid would be privileged to get to know him in these books.
Do you know someone who would love this list? Make sure you send them the link so they don’t miss out!
Do you have any suggestions for books I missed in this list? Let me know in the comments or by email!
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