There are millions of picture books out there, sitting on the shelves just hoping to be read, well at least their authors are hoping they will be. So what’s an author to do? If they are not a big name author from an adult genre, or have bought the rights to use a popular character from a cartoon or TV puppet show, then they’ve really got to do something to be noticed. So the clever unknown authors have caught on to the fact that a little controversy can get you noticed on the shelves, and, if you’re lucky a parent or organisation will cry out for your book to be removed from the shelves. If you practically win the author lottery though, they’ll start a campaign online and in the media to have your book banned. Then you can sit back and watch the large wads of cash flow in, as the majority of the population who do not agree with the moral extremists, buy your book.
So, one method authors try is to not only have a catchy title, but make it have a double meaning for a usually taboo topic. These titles probably will go over a child’s head, but will make adults do a double take and say, hey that’s not really about what I’m thinking is it? Of course it never is but by then the adult, or even sometimes the child, has picked up the book.
Mines Bigger Than Yours by Jeanne Willis. What you’re thinking – probably along the lines of comparing size of what’s in the pants. What it’s actually about – Bullying.
Mum and Dad Glue by Kes Gray. What you’re thinking – a little boy finds what he thinks is a little plastic bag in the bin in his parents’ ensuite, he asks his parents what’s in this? Oh that’s mum and dad glue his father tells him. What it’s actually about – divorce, although it does have a creepy stranger danger scene in a glue shop.
The Terrible Plop by Ursula Dubosarsky. What you’re thinking – something to do with number 2s in the toilet. What it’s actually about – animals are scared by a sudden noise and run around like idiots, one runs into a bear, the bear is not amused and forces the panicking animal to take it to the source of the terrible plop noise.
Doodle Bites: A Tilly and Friends Book by Polly Dunbar. What you’re thinking – I don’t think I need to say what you’re thinking but it would obviously involve the dropping of pants. What it’s actually about - A crocodile bites its roommate’s bare bottom.
Titles that are just controversial on their own
I’m Coming to Get You, by Tony Ross, is actually about a monster that is coming to get a particularly wussy kid. Of course once the kid decides to tackle his fear there isn’t really anything to be scared of.
Both Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Kaplan and How to Cook Children : a Grisly Recipe Book by Howard Martin basically involve cooking with the especially tasty, to the characters, ingredient of young children. Both have much more clever titles than the disappointing stories inside.
Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach. This has always been marketed as an adults book designed to parody the look of a children’s picture book. It’s about the frustrations parents have when their kid won’t go to sleep and keeps coming out of their room.
Everybody Dies by Ken Tanaka, also marketed as an adults’ book. Just telling it like it is, done as a parody to children’s picture books with basic paint like illustrations and messages like your pet cat won’t be around forever, illustrated with a cat about to get mown down by a car.
There’s a Monster in My Bed by Petra Craddock. A little girl feels with her feet, someone or something in her bed.
Other controversial picture books have topics, that although vital to a good childhood upbringing, are ones that parents are often too embarrassed to bring up in conversation, so these books allow children to read them, become educated, aware and ready for the big bad world.
That’s Not Your Mommy Anymore by Matt Mogk, which I reviewed in September. For their own safety, of course, this book teaches kids how to detect when their mother, or any adult, has become a zombie so they can escape. It also teaches them how to survive.
Little Zizi by Thierry Lenain, tackles the age old dilemma of does size matter? which some parents may find a bit awkward to talk about with their sons. Zizi is a euphemism for part of the male anatomy, and little is the description given of it by a bully, when their school class changes after swimming. Both the bully and the kid with the small zizi want the same girl. Will zizi size matter once she finds out?
I Want My Hat Back by J. Klassen teaches kids that there are consequences if you decide to steal and lie, when a bear’s hat is stolen, he wants it back, and it’s not going to be fun for the lying thief.
Egg Drop by Mini Grey. An egg watches birds flying and assumes it can do the same, so climbs to the top of a tower and jumps off, teaches parents and kids all about the consequences of a lack of supervision when it comes to keeping an eye on younger siblings .
I Really Want to Eat a Child (reviewed 2011) by Sylviane Donnio follows Archiles, a crocodile who is sick of bananas and other food its parents keep feeding it. Archiles really wants to taste the flesh of a human child. Teaches children the importance of croc safety and consequences of tormenting animals.
Duncan the Punkin by Scott Nicholson , tale of pumpkin’s being carved for Halloween from a pumpkin’s point of view including getting their brains scooped out, oh and a scarecrow goes on the rampage too. It’s a great read!
Vampyre by Margaret Wild & Andrew Yeo, is a depressing tale about the consequences of bullying. A young boy is a sufferer of a disease such as xeroderma pigmentosum where he can’t go out in the sunlight . Set in ignorant medieval times, the villagers refer to him as a vampire and make his life unbearable.
Zip It, by Jane Lindaman. A boy is forced to accompany his dad all over town. His dad has his fly undone the whole time.
Sticky Ends by Jeanne Willis. perhaps you don’t think the title is controversial, but the real controversy is inside, where a little girl sits on a naked monster’s lap, she doesn’t know is there, when about to use the toilet.
Wolves by Emily Gravett. Spoiler alert – this is a controversial, but realistic, book because the main ”dumb bunny” character is eaten by a wolf.
Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester. Easily the most disturbing of all books on this list. Spoiler alert – Rodney, a rat with a speech impediment, is bullied by his whole class every day. Then a new rat turns up and puts a stop to it. However Rodney decides to impress his former tormentors by tricking her into leaving the school grounds where she is abducted, killed or who knows what, but she’s never seen again.
Mail Harry to the Moon by Robie H. Harris. A young boy doesn’t like his baby brother so comes up with all sorts of ways to get rid of him once and for all!
Wolf Won’t Bite! by Emily Gravett. A group of pigs capture a dog and torture it, this may be hard reading but rest assured the pigs get their comeuppance and there are some great very important lessons to be learnt for children who read it.
Cover and Title
My Hairiest Adventure by R.L. Stine is actually a junior paperback but the cover deserves a mention here, a boy with hairy palms looking in the mirror with the bi-line It Just Keeps Growing and Growing! What you’re thinking - Mum told him he’d go blind and get hairy palms if he didn’t stop doing that!. What it’s actually about – a kid who turns into a werewolf.
Dad’s Secret Building by Amy Knight (beginner readers). This one’s cover is so controversial that book online sites don’t show it. The cover seems to be of a poster candidate for child safety promotion villains, with gloves and rope telling the reader to be quiet, and pictures inside of him building a crucifix presumably because the child told his teacher or something. You’re a little concerned this is going to be pretty creepy book. It’s actually about a guy who builds a surprise tree house for his kids.