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 . . .
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 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 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: 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 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? 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 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 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! 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 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 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.
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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 email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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