Thanks to Justin Taylor for pointing out a very good article by N.D. Wilson on why the right kind of scary stories are good for children.
Here is Wilson's article in the Atlantic.
Some of our family's favourite "scary" Wilson stories are Leepike Ridge, Boys of Blur, the 100 Cupboards series, the Ashtown Burials series (still waiting for the rest to be published!), and his latest, Outlaws of Time: the Legend of Sam Miracle, is bound to be good too.
Wilson mentions some of the books that shaped him in his childhood reading, like C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, or J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. These stories have evil characters in them and frightening confrontations with darkness. However, I agree whole-heartedly with kids reading these stories. There are many other "dark" stories that some parents shy away from but which I think are good at imparting the very things Wilson speaks about in his article. Some of our family's favourites are by Neil Gaiman: Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. Certainly every parent should find out if their kids are ready for some of these darker-leaning books and I would suggest that parents should either read these tales to their children, or else read them along with their children, in order to be able to discuss the very themes Wilson talks about in his article (at least the first time the child experiences these stories). But I most ardently advocate that these types of stories should be a regular part of a child's, and family's, reading diet.
If you are unconvinced by Wilson's reasoning about why children should read scary or dark stories which teach them about virtue and courage and good ultimately triumphing over evil in the end, be sure to check out the blog post by Taylor mentioned above, which includes some quotes by authors arguing for the same thing. Quotes like this one by G.K. Chesterton:
Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.- The Red Angel