(pictured below: a stare down that shapes a lifetime.)
This week one of my co-workers was tricked into reading The Adventures Of The Princess and Mr. Whiffle to a bunch of children. She had to quit halfway through. Why? It actually isn’t for kids. It even comes with a golden sticker that reads, “This shit isn’t for kids.” Unfortunately it had been mistaken for a Caldecott award.
The punchline of the book involves a girl killing/eating a live animal and making a house out of its bones. Would I read this to a child? Er… um, no. But then I got to thinking- I have absolutely loved some inappropriate children’s books. I own some and treasure them. I’ve even threatened to read them to children (and maybe I will… and maybe I have).
Without further ado, here is a list of my favorite inappropriate children’s books. Click on a title and you’ll be taken to visuals highlighting their gloriousness. Either that or the dulcet tones of Samuel L. Jackson telling a kid to “knock off the bullshit” and go to their room.
1) All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John
This book is a gorgeous catalog of loneliness and despair, culminating with the image of Death saying “This job makes me feel so alive.” When I read this the first time I lost it. I simply didn’t know which had started first: the laughter or the tears.
A sequel was released last year. Spoiler: everyone is still dead.
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2) The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey
Tinies is an alphabet of dead children. Surprisingly, this isn’t the most disturbing thing Gorey wrote.
I also own this in poster form. I suppose parents or teachers might use it as a discipline tool. A child acts poorly and you can just take them to the poster and say, “All right, pick one.”
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3) Go The Fuck To Sleep by Adam Mansbach
Some children have trouble going to sleep. This book sums up the inner monologue of any parent or caretaker that has dealt with this problem, which usually ends with said adult curling into the fetal position and crying.
It’s available in print, pdf format and has been publicly read by such luminaries as Samuel L. Jackson (as mentioned before) and Werner Herzog. If someone asked Christopher Walken to read it I’m sure he would be game. After all, he did read the lyrics to “Poker Face” without knowing what they were.
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4) I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
A bear murders a rabbit because he stole the bear’s hat. That’s pretty much it.
Unlike the other books mentioned here this is an actual children’s book, and might be my favorite children’s book of all time. The story is told in such a subtle way that it goes over a child’s head but they still sense something is… well, off.
Then they want you to read it 30 more times. I have no problem indulging them.
Klassen’s follow-up, This Is Not My Hat, won the 2013 Caldecott Award. It’s also about theft and murder.
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5) Movies R Run by Josh Cooley
The fact that this book isn’t available to own really bothers me. It was printed once and for a limited run, making it a collector’s item.
Anyway, if you ever want to see scenes from films such as Fight Club, The Godfather, The Silence Of The Lambs or Terminator 2: Judgment Day turned into brightly colored Golden Book illustrations, then this is the book for you. It’s as uncomfortable as it is funny, mostly because of what isn’t shown in the illustrations. They play on what we know and what we’ve already seen.
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6) Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book by Shel Silverstein
This is the ULTIMATE inappropriate children’s book, and I bet parents still purchase it for their kids because they figure, “Hey, it’s Shel Silverstein. Light In The Attic and stuff.” Further proof that parents should crack a book before handing it over to their kids.
Silverstein published this years before he became a successful children’s author. However, this may be the funniest thing he ever wrote. And it’s terrible. If a child took it literally life would become a hell on Earth and he/she would cripple themselves, commit murder or kill themselves.
The funny thing is that my siblings and I were free to read this book when we were young and whenever we wanted. We knew it was a joke. We also didn’t die. And we loved it.
So… would I read it to a child? When the time is right: totally. Life is short and we all know it isn’t easy. It’s never too early to begin developing a sense of humor.