100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

The Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books of 2019

Here’s to keeping it interesting. 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 Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books of 2018201720162015201420132012

Encyclopedia of Grannies by Eric Veillé

Gecko Press | August 13

Why It’s Unconventional: Veillé is no stranger to this list (with 2017’s My Pictures After the Storm), but in terms of sheer oddness, this one blows his previous work out of the water. It’s a completely bonkers, gleefully silly guide to grandmothers of all stripes.

Apocalypse Taco by Nathan Hale

Abrams | March 26

Why It’s Unconventional: A graphic novel about aliens making creepy copies of the human world via the local taco place. I promise at least three “What the heck IS this???” moments while reading.

The Finger and the Nose by Paula Merlán, illustrated by Gómez

NubeOcho | October 22

Why It’s Unconventional: There have been booger and nose-picking books, but never like this. Tim the left index finger (yep, the nose-picking finger is made sentient) makes a home in Sophie’s schnoz. It’s like the world’s most disgusting issue of Dwell in there.

Noodlephant by Jacob Kramer, illustrated by K-Fai Steele

Enchanted Lion | February 12

Why It’s Unconventional: Tackling the topics of oppression and justice with a noodle-loving elephant and an invention that turns anything into pasta. Trust me, it works.

The Flops by Delphine Durand, translated by Sarah Klinger

Enchanted Lion | July 16

Why It’s Unconventional: Well, for starters, it’s an extremely detailed guide to a creature that doesn’t exist. For seconds, the oddball humor and tone are unlike anything I’ve read.

Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot! by Cece Bell

Candlewick | September 3

Why It’s Unconventional: Sometimes when a new book comes out from an established (and award-winning) creator, it lulls us into a sense of “This is a good and normal book from someone who’s work I’m familiar with.” But then you step back, rub your eyes and realize “Wait, this book is friggin’ WEIRD, man!” Brain is seemingly an idiot who wants Bird to smell his foot. But is Brain more brainy than he appears?

Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raul the Third

Versify (HMH) | April 2

Why It’s Unconventional: You had to know that the illustrator behind the gravity-bending cool of Lowriders in Space (written by Cathy Camper), would bring something unexpected in his author/illustrator debut. Part comic, part picture book, part Richard Scarry exploration of community.

The Book in the Book in the Book by Julien Baer, illustrated by Simon Bailly

Holiday House | January 8

Why It’s Unconventional: Inception for kids. A boy separated from his parents finds a book about . . . a boy separated from his parents who finds a book about . . . you guessed it, yet another. Topping it off is how the conceit is carried out, with a series of smaller books attached to the pages.

Aleph by Janik Coat

Gecko Press | March 5

Why It’s Unconventional: It’s unconventional for its simplicity. A book for the very young, it contains page after page of stark, bold images of common shapes, objects, and animals, presented wordlessly. If you have a hip friend with a new baby, this is the book to gift.

How To Walk an Ant by Cindy Derby

Roaring Brook Press | March 26

Why It’s Unconventional: As the title says, this book outlines the nine steps for, yes, walking an ant. The leashing. The coaxing. Needless to say the plan doesn’t go as planned. The wonderfully quirky Stephen Gammell-esque illustrations only heighten the absurdity.

Chapter Two Is Missing! by Josh Lieb, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Razorbill (Penguin) | October 29

Why It’s Unconventional: Is it a picture book? Is it a large-format chapter book? And the most important question: where did the second chapter go? It’s a fourth-wall-busting bit of mystery madness.

My Cat Looks Like My Dad by Thao Lam

OwlKids | April 15

Why It’s Unconventional: A story about family (with a twist ending) told as a comparison between a cat and a dad. You know, as you do.

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. Is the author of Aleph actually Janik Coat (not Cote)?

  2. Love this and glad to discover you.
    We are The Rabbit Hole Independent Bookshop in the UK. Will check how to get these over here.
    Any advice ….

    Take care

    Nick Mel
    The Rabbit Hole

  3. Aside from the fact that I REALLY need to stop buying books this summer, these are fantastic. Thank you!

  4. Wow! Seriously, how do you find these crazy books? We will definitely have to have them all! (I already love Raul the Third’s series with Verisfy!)
    Jennifer Sniadecki

  5. Kate Hannigan says

    Whoa, adding to my library queue. Why creativity!

  6. this is awesome thanks for this article

  7. Lisa Riddiough says

    Fantastic!!! Thank you for this.

  8. Angie Bone says

    Hello! Love that you found these books! Some of the names made me giggle! Can I send you one of my children’s books and see what you think? The name of mine is Spotted Jeans and Speckled Faces.

  9. Denis Markell says

    Travis, what a GREAT list! None of these books would have been on my radar if you hadn’t done this. I need to bookmark this for hold season…


  10. Kathleen Rauth says

    Might I also suggest “Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO”? A beautifully weird book!

  11. Amazing list!! thanks!