The Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books of 2017
I love it when a book leaves me stunned (in a good way).
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 . . .
What Does Baby Want? by Tupera Tupera
Phaidon | June 16
Baby is upset. What does baby want? A ball? No. A tambourine? Keep guessing . . .
Why It’s Unconventional: See above for a clue on the conclusion of the book. While the topic of breastfeeding has been popping up more in books for children, it’s often depicted as an aside in the illustrations without much mention. This is the first book I’ve seen to address it so directly. Bravo Two-pera (yep, just coined a nickname for the creator of this book).
Adele in Sand Land by Claude Ponti
TOON Books | May 15
Adele playtime in the sand turns into a long strange trip.
Why It’s Unconventional: It’s Alice in Wonderland on acid (more acid???). Adele follows a talking sand castle into a world of the bizarre and grotesque. I’ve heard badminton described at the fastest-slowest sport in the world (because of the immense change in velocity of the shuttlecock during the course of play). Well, Ponti’s work is the badminton of children’s literature – simultaneously the cutest and the most frightening out there.
The Purloining Prince of Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead and Erin Stead
Doubleday (Random House) | September 26
The Steads breathe life into an unfinished fairy tale by Mark Twain.
Why It’s Unconventional: In text, illustration, and design, nothing here says “Hey Just Your Standard Picture Book in the Year 2017”. It’s a 160 page story laid out and illustrated like a picture book with a text where the living author occasionally engages in banter with the deceased author.
My Pictures After the Storm by Eric Viellé
Gecko Press | March 1
A series of before-and-after illustrations.
Why It’s Unconventional: Viellé isn’t afraid to get absurd, favoring weird and humorous choices over the standard melted-ice-cube-becomes-puddle-of-water fare.
Grandfather and the Moon by Stéphanie LaPointe and Rogé
Groundwood Books | May 16
A girl goes to the moon to lift the spirits of her grieving grandfather.
Why It’s Unconventional: You read the summary there, right? Add to it the fact that this book rides about four different format lines (illustrated novel, chapter book, picture book, graphic novel) Is it for grown-ups? Is it for kids? One thing is certain:
you won’t read anything else like it.
Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say
Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic) | October 31
A picture book biography of little-known artist James Castle.
Why It’s Unconventional: Say has called his artwork in this book “a possession” by Castle. And it shows, with page after page of illustrations that will make you wonder if Castle made them (nope, all Say).
Tell Me About Sex, Grandma by Anastasia Higginbotham
The Feminist Press at CUNY | April 11
“The talk”, illustrated.
Why It’s Unconventional: Oh, you’ve seen a lot of books on this topic, with this sort of title, illustrated in collage? Then it’s pretty typical, I guess.
La La La by Kate DiCamillo and Jaime Kim
Candlewick Press | October 3
A girl struggles to be heard in a big world.
Why It’s Unconventional: Some books are striking because of their content. Some stand out because they are unlike anything that creator has made before (see: Silent Days, Silent Dreams). This one is a little of both. It’s a fully-realized story (with sizable assistance from Jaime Kim) written by a Newbery winner containing one word consisting of two letters. Also, it’s about a girl striking up a friendship with the moon.
The Last Tree by Ingrid Chabbert and Guridi
Kids Can Press | April 4
A boy and his friend save the last tree from certain destruction.
Why It’s Unconventional: Combine one part dystopia, one part environmental allegory and you have . . . a combo not often found in a picture book. Chabbert knows how to write unconventional books – her book The Day I Became a Bird was on this list last year.
Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten
Clarion Books (HMH) | June 27
Lint boy is on a mission to save his friend.
Why It’s Unconventional: This graphic novel features a slightly twisted dream-like world that reads like a mix of Coraline and the witch from Hansel and Gretel.
The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken
Dial (Penguin) | April 18
No one is perfect. No drawing is perfect. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Why It’s Unconventional: Luyken does something unexpected with the illustrations – over the course of the book, mistakes in the artwork are made, addressed in the text, and then transformed into something else, guiding the story in new places in the process.
*Bonus Reissue Section*
These Astonishingly Unconventional books from the past are all being reissued in 2017.
Mud Book: How to Make Pies and Cakes by John Cage and Lois Long
Princeton Architectural Press | April 4
Created in the mid 50s and first published in a limited run in the 80s this book is exactly what the title suggests – a book on about making mud pies and cakes.
Why It’s Unconventional: With illustrations that appear to be made with the help of actual mud, this tiny square of a book stands out.
Tales for the Perfect Child by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier
Atheneum (Simon & Shuster) | March 7
Eight short stories about kids messing with authority.
Why It’s Unconventional: It dares to show kids subtly (and not so subtly) thumbing their noses at their parents. But who can’t relate with being a little naughty sometimes?
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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