When you’ve read as many children’s books as I have, you come to deeply appreciate books that are truly unique and even very strange. Strange is often terrific, because it challenges us to think about things in a different way. Here are some of my favorite and most unusual books from our collection.
I’ll begin with some picture books which are certainly appropriate for any age, but might be best appreciated by kids old enough to enjoy the strangeness and to interpret visual clues. David Wiesner is a master of the unusual picture book. Wiesner is the winner of three Caldecott Medals, an annual award for most distinguished illustrated book. Tuesday is an almost wordless book that shows the unusual events of one night. Like many of Wiesner’s books, Tuesday leaves room for differing interpretations. In Mr. Wuffles, a cat encounters a tiny spaceship of aliens.
Carson Ellis’s book Du Iz Tak? is written entirely in an imaginary language, so part of the fun is in figuring out what the insects are saying. Stay tuned for an “interpretive challenge” with this book as part of the Summer Program.
Part of the challenge of working in a library comes with deciding where each book should be placed in the collection. Books that look like picture books may have enough text that we decide to place them in the juvenile fiction area. In making our decision, we usually default to the question, “Where will the most people find the book and appreciate it?” The next two “strange” books are located with the other children’s chapter books.
Aviary Wonders Inc. blew me away when it was published in 2014. Imagine a time in the future when birds have become extinct. Now imagine that you could order a mechanical bird. Aviary Wonders Inc. is the catalog you would order from and includes instructions on how to assemble and care for your bird. I stand in awe of the creativity on display in this book!
J. Patrick Lewis is better known as writer of children’s poetry, but The Last Resort tells the story of an artist who has lost his imagination. A very nice “Afterword” explains all the literary references from Treasure Island to Don Quixote.
Most people probably know Chris Van Allsburg as the author/illustrator of The Polar Express and Jumanji, although he has a very extensive list of books to his credit, with many of them falling into the strange (intriguing?) category. Harris Burdick first came into being with the publication of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a collection of 14 thought-provoking drawings and captions by Van Allsburg. Teachers across the country began to use the illustrations as writing prompts, and in 2011, best-selling authors created short stories to accompany the pictures. The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is the collection of these short stories. It’s fascinating to decide for yourself what one of the illustrations might be about and then read the author’s version. Don’t forget to also check out our other books by Van Allsburg; we have some in the Easy area, some in the Juvenile Fiction area and even one with the Juvenile Biographies. If you like the concept of writing a story to match an illustration, you should also take a look at Twice Told Tales.
The last title, Mouse Bird Snake Wolf by David Almond is a mash-up of creation myth, graphic novel and chapter book. It is probably best for upper elementary and up, and it may even find fans among teens who are familiar with other books by Almond. It’s a bit reminiscent of “The Glunk That Got Thunk“, one of my children’s favorite Dr. Seuss stories.
Does you have other “strange” books that you love? Let me know so I can spread the word!