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The Wildest Children’s Books of 2012

If you are in fear of children’s literature becoming too tame, too P.C., too middle-of-the-road – fear not! There are still plenty of odd, unusual, and just plain wild books for kids. Let’s take a look at five of the most “What the – ?!” inducing books of 2012. I enjoyed each and every one.

The Onion’s Great Escape by Sara Fanelli

A technicolor mixed media affair where the main character gets a hand from the reader to escape the “The Big Fry”. The above video gives you a good idea of the book.

Why it’s Wild: Part art piece, part picture book, The Onion’s Great Escape is most notable because it features an actual onion escape – it pops right out of the book.

Bear Despair by Gaëtan Dorémus

Bear has his purple teddy bear stolen in the night. Rather than help, the other animals play keep-away with Bear’s prized possession and pay the price. If you were on Team Bear after reading I Want My Hat Back, this one’s for you.

Why it’s Wild: This French import harkens back to the days of children’s literature when characters got eaten if they didn’t act right – and it wasn’t a big deal.

Leo Geo by Jon Chad

A factual, fantastic visual journey to the center of the earth and back.

Why it’s Wild: Leo Geo is wonderfully bold in design. The long, skinny trim size of the book mimics the tunnel Leo takes into the depths.

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex

An author and illustrator fight over the direction of their picture book – while the book is in progress. As a bonus, it also features one of the wildest book trailers of the year (see above).

Why it’s Wild: This book is groundbreakingly meta. It may mark the first time an author tries to fill in for the illustrator during the book. It doesn’t work out well.

Benny’s Brigade by Arthur Bradford, illustrated by Lisa Hanawalt

Two sisters come across a wiggling nut in the forest – what could be inside? A miniature walrus named Benny, of course.

Why it’s Wild: Apart from the delightfully hallucinogenic story, it sports some of the most bravely accurate (for a kids book) depictions of slugs in recent memory.

Any other 2012 oddballs for the cause?

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. I love this post. (And I very recently saw Bear Despair.)

  2. And I *still* haven’t seen Chloe and the Lion, which is just WRONG. Gotta fix that.

    • Oh, man – that book is CRAZY. I didn’t get a chance to read it until recently and I really enjoyed it.

  3. Thanks, great post. I’m desperately trying to think of a book to contribute, but haven’t found anything yet. That YouTube clip for Cloe and the Lion just can’t be beat.

  4. Fantastic post! Odd kids’ books are a rare pleasure. ‘The Onion’s Great Escape’ is genius. And Lisa Hanawalt’s art is always wonderfully strange. I love it when a publisher goes out on a limb and takes a chance on wacky, unconventional work.

  5. WHOA! That onion book is out of control! I LOVE IT! Thanks for the shout out!

  6. Lou Royston says

    Leo Geo is amazing! Jon Chad had got to be one of the most talented and imaginative guys out there right now. Go grab it on Amazon for your kids (or yourself), like today!

  7. Where is “Z is for Moose” by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky?

  8. Christine S. says

    We bought Leo Geo on your recommendation for our 5 year-old nephew. He’s crazy about it. Brilliant illustrations and a great mix of fact and fantasy.


  1. […] -Benny’s Brigade by Arthur Bradford, Illustrated by Lisa Hanawalt [*]- With its quirky story and fantastical illustrations, I can understand why this was one of the wildest children’s books of 2012! […]

  2. […] Don’t take my word for it: 100 Scope Notes Wildest Books of 2012 […]

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