This is John Bellairs’s most well-known book, and for some reason, it’s the one I remembered best. (Probably because a minor plot point, the Hand of Glory—a candle growing out of the back of a severed hand—made a deep impression on me when I first read it.)
The House with a Clock in Its Walls is actually surprisingly creepy. It’s the first of three books featuring Lewis Barnavelt, a shy 10-year-old whose parents have recently died in a car accident. When the book opens, Lewis is on a bus, on his way to New Zebedee, Michigan, where he will live with his Uncle Jonathan, who he’s never met.
Jonathan is a very friendly man, but he soon turns out to have some strange habits. Lewis finds out that his uncle is a warlock, and their next-door neighbour and Jonathan’s best friend, Florence Zimmerman, is a witch. This turns out to be rather a good thing—the real problem is the ominous ticking which seems to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.
Without being particularly preachy, this book gives a great object lesson on why you should never try to bribe or impress someone to keep their friendship. Especially by using witchcraft and necromancy.
If you want to try out a John Bellairs book, or know a child who might, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a great place to start. It’s an excellent, scary story, it’s the first in a series, and it’s actually the first children’s book Bellairs wrote.