kids books for hipsters

Or at least the illustration/ comics nerds in all of us.

When I was a kid, children’s books were sort of a religion in our house.  We lived near a book warehouse, where my mother could do things like buy every Caldecott winner for a dollar each.  I watched Reading Rainbow so religiously that I referred to LeVar Burton by his first name at the dinner table.  The city of Philadelphia had a children’s book fair where we could go meet authors and illustrators and buy their work; afterwards my mom hung the signed posters all over the house.

When I got older, I forgot about those books, or thought I did.  Then I started working at a bookstore.  Like a language you once spoke but lost track of, the books rushed back to me as soon as I was around them again.  We sell a lot of kid’s books, and despite a twenty year gap, more or less, between now and my time of children’s book worship, I can still pull out the ones I loved.

But the biggest surprise for me hasn’t been that I remember books I used to love; it’s that I’ve discovered new books that move and delight twenty-five-year old me.  Some kids books, even great kids books, are truly for kids.  But there are others that deal with friendship and innocence and wonder and, oddly, sadness in ways both more immediate and more sophisticated than many adult stories.  They have plenty to offer grown-ups, or wherever you fall between, and I highly recommend checking out not only the classics, but this cool new stuff.

The image above is from a book “The Way Back Home” by Oliver Jeffers.  His books are sad and fanciful and shockingly beautiful.  They often feature delightful jumps in logic — a plane that flies to the moon, a penguin who floats to England, a book-eating boy — that characterizes the best of a certain stripe of fantasy.  And the illustrations.  They’re awesome.  Observe:

A co-worker (who is an excellent illustrator himself) turned me on to these books, and I adore the hell out of them.

Jeffers is my go-to guy at the moment, but there’s a few other new-ish books that are totally worth your time.  A new book just came out that was, incredibly, the author’s grad school thesis.  It’s called Wonder Bear, and is one of the most beautiful, and trippiest, books I’ve seen in awhile.  Like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, is told all in pictures, and has a similar dreamlike feel.

Finally, Adam Rex has a both delightful and dark book called Pssst! about a girl who can hear all the animals talk in the zoo — and they won’t stop asking her to smuggle things in for them.

Anyone know something I’m missing?  Mo Willems is also very charming, though I’m not sure how many times I can get excited about telling the pigeon not to do things.  Sooner or later, the pigeon is just going to have to learn from his mistakes.

13 comments on “kids books for hipsters

  1. I agree with you that some children’s books “deal with friendship and innocence and wonder and, oddly, sadness in ways both more immediate and more sophisticated than many adult stories.”
    These all look great.

    When I get home I’m going to watch the movie in your previous entry. Can’t do it at work, either due to security measures or bandwidth, or some such technical thing.

  2. Lane says:

    Thanks. My wife and I have been on a kids book spree lately, on account of the any-day-now arrival of our son. Always glad to find more I want to stock up his library with.

  3. Congratulations!
    I know you are mainly talking about recently published books, but I have to add that one of my favorites, both as a child and an adult, is Minn of the Mississippi by Holling Clancy Holling. The new editions of Minn are okay, but they no longer feature the ramarkable flyleaf illustration that I remember from my youth. I sat for long periods of time just pouring over the flyleaf illustration. I also did that with the late 50’s or early 60’s Grolier Book of Knowledge flyleaf. Whatever happened to good flyleaf art?

  4. The “congratulations” was to Lane and the other part was to Meghan and Lane and everyone else.

  5. H. James says:

    Children’s books I like from the bookstore where I work:

    Bats at the Library by Brian Lies (bats! library! awesome!)


    Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French – it’s cute AND funny.

  6. Meghan McCarron says:

    Bill — I don’t know Minn of the Mississippi at all! I will have to look it up.

    And Lane, yay books! yay son!

  7. Larry says:

    Two of my favorite children’s books from the time I was learning to read (almost 30 years ago) were Where the Wild Things Are and Harold and the Purple Crayon. Still love re-reading them on occasion, just when I feel like I’m becoming too “adult-like.”

  8. Mark Teppo says:

    That second to last page of Oliver Jeffers’ Lost and Found gets me every time we read it around my house. We passed on The Incredible Book-Eating Boy because my son was a little too suggestible when it came out, and I didn’t want to start a trend. Though, The Way Back Home looks a little safer. I’ll have to go grab that one. Oh, and the The Wonder Bear and Psst! too! Yeah, new books to read! Thank you.

  9. Meghan McCarron says:

    Larry — I love re-reading those books too! Also In the Night Kitchen by Sednak is a great re-read.

    Mark — Ha, on the book-eating. Lost and Found is definitely tear-up territory for me. Highly recommend the Way Back Home, and How To Catch a Star — less danger of, um, increased fiber intake.

  10. My friend, Dan Santat, writes and illustrates children’s books that have giant robots, monkeys, and scientists with fezzes.

  11. thank you! great articles

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