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 . . .
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.
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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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