100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

The Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books of 2016


Pushing the envelope. Pushing boundaries. Pushing buttons. Here’s to children’s books that expand our assumptions of what a children’s book can be.

Previously . . .

The Wildest Children’s Books of 2015

The Wildest Children’s Books of 2014

The Wildest Children’s Books of 2013

The Wildest Children’s Books of 2012

Look Up!

Look Up! by Jung Jin-Ho

Holiday House | July 30, 2016

A girl in a wheelchair watches the world from her balcony, urging passersby to look up. Eventually, a boy takes notice.

Why It’s Unconventional: The dramatic perspective shift makes for a completely unexpected reading experience.

The Singing Bones

The Singing Bones 1

The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

Alfred A. Levine (Scholastic) | October 11, 2016

Tan’s version of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm.

Why It’s Unconventional: Has Shaun Tan ever done a book that wasn’t incredibly unique (really – think about it)? This time out he trades drawing and painting for sculpture.

Baa Baa Smart Sheep

Baa Baa Smart Sheep 1

Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark and Rowan Sommerset

Candlewick Press | February 23, 2016

Sheep plays a prank on Turkey, tricking him into eating something that, well, usually goes uneaten. It’s just about the worst prank you could imagine, really.

Why It’s Unconventional: Let’s just say it breaks ground in the area of scatalogical humor.

Doodle Adventures 1

Doodle Adventures 2

Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs by Mike Lowery

Workman | May 17, 2016

A space adventure story meets an activity book.

Why It’s Unconventional: It takes the activity book idea to an other level, where kids actually draw parts of the story.

The Day I Became a Bird

The Day I Became a Bird 1

The Day I Became a Bird by Ingrid Chabbert, illustrated by Raúl Nieto Guridi

Kids Can Press | September 6, 2016

A boy in love with a girl decides to become her favorite thing.

Why It’s Unconventional: Breaking all elementary school social norms, the kid just won’t stop trying to be a bird. I admire his commitment.

Du Iz Tak 9780763665302_IL_2_775b6

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

Candlewick Press | October 18, 2016

In the lilliputian world of insects, a flower grows, blooms, and dies over the course of a year.

Why It’s Unconventional: The insects speak an entirely made up language, forcing the reader to decipher the story as it goes along.

This Is Not a Book

This Is Not a Book 2

This Is Not a Book by Jean Julien

Phaidon | March 28, 2016

This book isn’t a book. Each turn of the page a new metamorphosis as it becomes a computer, a piano, a house, and more (see above: butt).

Why It’s Unconventional: It is everything except a book. And yet  . . . it is a book. I’m going to go and stare at the wall or a while and contemplate that.

The Liszts

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The Liszts by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Júlia Sardà

Tundra Books | October 4, 2016

A Royal Tennenbaums-esque family of list makers is forever changed when a stranger arrives.

Why It’s Unconventional: You have a spread where a character is applying eyeliner with Kraftwerk and Bowie albums on the wall, you get on this list.


Don't Cross the Line

Don't Cross the Line 1

Don’t Cross the Line! by Isabel Minhos Martins, illustrated by Bernardo Carvalho

Gecko Press | August 1, 2016

A mean dictator orders a guard to make sure no one crosses to the recto page. But the community can’t be held back forever.

Why It’s Unconventional: It’s a fresh take on the meta picture book, as well as a subtle commentary on what it means to be free.

Samira and the Skeletons

Samira 1

Samira and the Skeletons by Camilla Kuhn

Eerdmans Books | March 1, 2016

When Samira learns that everyone has a skeleton inside their bodies, her world is turned upside down.

Why It’s Unconventional: For introducing the idea that the tooth fairy is happy to accept human bones as well as teeth.


Ideas 1

Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead

Roaring Brook Press | March 1, 2016

The author is having trouble coming up with an idea for a story, so he goes for a walk with his trusty dog Wednesday.

Why It’s Unconventional: It’s unconventional precisely because of how it handles a conventional day. It dares to do what few books do – examine the mundane. But the way the day is captured – a spare, thoughtful text brought to life through a host of illustration techniques (including photography and collage) – turns something typical into something beautiful.

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. My girls LOVE Samira and the Skeletons.

    Great list.

  2. Thanks for sharing these! I ordered the ones I hadn’t seen. Intrigued by The Liszts.

  3. Great post, Travis. Hot on the heels of reading this article about Shaun Tan: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/b60e8c32-64cb-11e6-a08a-c7ac04ef00aa.html

  4. Just read The Liszts during my lunch break. I’m giving it extra points for also including a photo of Sigourney Weaver in Alien on the “heroes” wall. Though what Mary Poppins did to get on the “villains” wall, we may never know.

    • Travis Jonker says

      Ha! Yeah, there’s a lot going on in that book. I love it

    • Bethany Thompson says

      I just ran across your comment and have to ask. When have you read Mary Poppins? I re-read it last year and have to ask how I missed that she wasn’t such a goody-two-shoes as Disney made her out to be when I read this as a kid. Just a bit on the scary side actually.

  5. Lauren Soloy says

    Wow, what a great-looking list! I will definitely be looking for these! Also wondering if you’ve seen “Leave Me Alone” by Vera Brosgol? It’s not out yet, so I haven’t seen it, but it looks like it might be a weird and wonderful book!

    • Travis Jonker says

      I know the book you’re talking about, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I know A Fuse #8 Production reviewed it a little while back

  6. Patricia Nozell says

    An amazing list. I’ve read one, seen a few, definitely need to read more. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Travis, thanks for sharing this! I’ve added them to the Amazon wish list for our school library in Baton Rouge that is rebuilding after the flood. As always, you are a wealth of knowledge. When I grow up, I want to be Travis Jonker.

  8. A famous Greek author, Eugenios Trivizas, who writes only for children, has an amazing novel, The Three Little Wolves. As you can imagine, he rewrote the classic but with a twist, the villain is the Cunning Bad Pig. It is truly a masterpiece with a beautiful happy ending. Plus, it is one of the very few books of his that is available in English, too.

  9. Always worthwhile to #namethetranslator: Daniel Hahn for Don’t Cross the Line!
    Beautiful 15-minute talk by Hahn: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04hyyr0