I’ve heard it said multiple times before that a well-written children’s book should appeal not only to children, but to adults as well. And I’ll fully admit that I do enjoy sinking my teeth into a good kid’s book. I especially enjoy reading older middle-grade series. If well-written, you have a juicy story that’s not too long, making it easy for a busy librarian to tear through a couple of titles over the course of a weekend. And my current obsession in middle grade is the Johnny Dixon series by John Bellairs.

I suppose I should start by telling you that this is a horror series. This is important, in case you weren’t looking for something to scare you. Because, these books will scare you. The story follows Johnny Dixon, a young boy growing up in the 1950s. His mother has recently died and his father has joined the war effort, so Johnny lives with his grandparents. Each book tackles a strange, supernatural situation that Johnny stumbles upon, starting with a cursed blue figurine that he steals from the basement of his local church. Together, with his neighbor and friend, Professor Childermass, Johnny must face off against all manner of monsters. The stories are fun, the chills are legitimate, and Johnny is a likeable, but timid protagonist. Despite the main character being a child, this is a series that has a lot to offer readers of all ages, from children to adults.

These books first came to my attention when I was eleven or twelve. A friend of mine had discovered them at the library, and insisted that I check them out. But, like Johnny, I was a timid kid, too, and I got scared looking at some of the more frightening covers and didn’t read them. But, a few months ago, I felt inspired to check out the series for real, and I’ve been having a blast reading through each book. As I said, these are legitimately scary stories–there’s an invisible monster that can mummify you by touch, and I just got to a passage in one of the books about a man having his eyeballs stolen right out of his head! (Yikes!)

But, while the books can be shocking, they never go too far. That being said, I would most definitely recommend this for teens, adults, and perhaps some older or more mature middle-grade readers (ones who would like a scare, but aren’t too easily frightened). The first part of the series can be found on Hoopla as audiobooks (narrator Johnny Heller does a great job!). Start with The Curse of the Blue Figurine.

Sadly, Bellairs died before he could finish writing the Johnny Dixon books. But, the series were continued by a second writer, Brad Strickland. While his contributions to Johnny’s adventures are not on Hoopla, you can still borrow them through SearchOhio. Strickland’s first contribution was The Doll, the Drum, and the Zombie, which he completed based on Bellairs’ notes. His first solo title was The Hand of the Necromancer.

Update: The Johnny Dixon eBooks are now available on Hoopla and can be found here.


I'm the Reader's Advisory Librarian at WPPL. My interests include old horror films, classic novels, manga and anime, paper-crafting, and plants. If you like my suggestions, you can request personalized recommendations from me on My Librarian page.