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31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 16 – Oddest Children’s Books of 2016

31daysBack in August of this year Travis Jonker wrote a great post on 100 Scope Notes called The Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books of 2016.  It was an excellent post, really getting into the nitty gritty of what it is that makes a book “unconventional”.  My list is a little different from Travis’s, though there’s definitely some overlap.  Regardless, here are the books that just strike me as so unique and strange and wild and wonderful that they could only be published in the 21st century:


Oddest Children’s Books of 2016

Arnold’s Extraordinary Art Museum by Catherine Ingram, ill. Jim Stoten


Have you ever read a book and wondered partway through if it was actually a huge in-joke that you, the reader, are just completely unaware of?  Now there are a LOT of things I like about Ingram’s title.  She great on individual characters.  She incorporates a lot of real art into the text and images that don’t tend to get highlighted in other “art” books for kids.  But it never got any professional reviews that I can find, possibly because reviewers didn’t know what to do with the darn thing.  Thank goodness for the blog Playing by the Book.  There you will find a review that explains precisely why you will love the book and the truly awesome crafts you can create from it (make your own Bauhaus Metal Party of 1929!!).

The Birth of Kataro by Shigeru Mizuki


Okay. I failed to properly explain this book when it appeared on the international import list the other day so let me see if I can do so now.  Basically, these comics celebrate a form of Japanese storytelling that is virtually unknown here in the States.  The “yokai” are defined as Japanese ghosts or monsters, but that’s only part of the story.  They’ve a long and storied history which I highly recommend you read up on if you’ve a chance.  As for these books, Kitaro is a yokai who is accompanied by his tiny eyeball father, Medama Oyaji (seen in his pre-eyeball form on the cover here) to do battle with a variety of different monsters.  Right.  So we’re all clear then.

The Heartless Troll by Øyvind Torseter


This was also mention on the international list (don’t worry – we’ve plenty of homegrown oddities here as well) and in that post I mentioned that the story involves a young man (sorta) on a quest.  He needs to rescue his brothers, I believe, from a troll.  The troll has also captured a princess, but to free her is mighty difficult.  I never showed you what the troll looks like.  Here you go:


Sleep tight tonight!

The Liszts by Kyo Maclear, ill. Julia Sarda


Dour and dire and wonderful.  The kind of book that reminds you of a slightly more perky Edward Gorey, if he were to be combined with, say, Lisa Brown.  This is one of those books that appeared on Travis’s list as well, and one of his commenters wrote, “I’m giving it extra points for also including a photo of Sigourney Weaver in Alien on the “heroes” wall. Though what Mary Poppins did to get on the “villains” wall, we may never know.”  I couldn’t have put it better myself.  It’s utterly charming in its weirdness.  I’m a big fan.

Margarash by Mark Riddle, ill. Tim Miller


My kids love this book.  No.  They do.  They LOVE this book.  And since it was published by Enchanted Lion Press, you’d be forgiven for thinking it to be an import.  You’d be wrong, but you’d be forgiven.  The story involves a monster that lives beneath all the couch cushions in the world, taking and keeping the loose change he finds.  There’s even a catchy little chant, “The coins that fall are for Margarash / Margarash / Margarash / The coins that fall are for Margarash / Leave them where they lie.”  I have it memorized.

My Baby Crocodile by Gaetan Doremus


Did I mention before how I honestly cannot read the title of this book without putting the words to the tune of “My Funny Valentine”?  The tale of a nearsighted crocodile that adopts a knight in armor because it has mistaken him for a baby crocodile is so strangely touching.  It doesn’t start that way, mind you.  No, at the beginning you’re pretty sure something weird is going on.  Weird and unnerving.  It’s only as you really get into the storyline that things start to fall into place.

Pinocchio: The Origin Story by Alessandro Sanna


If you know the Pinocchio story it won’t help you too much.  I mean, sure, you’d get more of the references than someone who walked in blind.  But this wordless little creation is such a strange mix of elements.  You’re left never quite knowing if you’re supposed to connect emotionally to the characters.  Beautiful art anyway, and no one can argue with that.

This Is Not a Book by Jean Jullien


There’s a butt.


That is all.

The Worst Breakfast by China Meiville, ill. Zak Smith


Huh!  China Meiville?  Wrote a picture book?  I knew he did a middle grade fantasy once but this is new.  In this book two sisters discuss a breakfast that beats any and all records for the worst breakfast of all time.  The art?  Not to my taste, but the text is remarkable.  I love books that start a little crazy and then turn into true brouhahas.  This one fits the bill.


Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books


About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I love The Lizsts (I’d buy it for the line “Sundays were listless” alone) and The Worst Breakfast.

  2. These are so creatively and uniquely quirky! I want to read them ALL! Right NOW! Especially the one about the couch cushion monster (I wonder if his cousin lives inside the dryer and eats socks). Just delightful!

    However…is it just me, or is there something kind of Predator-ish about that Troll?

  3. I’m a little surprised not to see Shaun Tan’s The Singing Bones. Though perhaps it’s for an older age group than you’re going for?