When a two-and-a-half-year-old runs the show, reading options tend to fall into mind-numbing categories. If I have to read Dog Wants to Play or The Berenstain Bears Go to the Movies one more time, I might join the dish and the spoon. There are good books, too, of course. My favorites include The Runaway Bunny, Wacky Wednesday, and Night-Night, Forest Friends. But sometimes, even the plight of a baby bird as he looks for his mother or the cutesy “goodnight nobody” line can send you to sleep faster than your little one. Do you ever crave something more from your kiddo’s book collection? Something a little…different?
Lucky for you, I’m kind of a weirdo, and weirdos read weird books. Here are nine offbeat books to shake up your story time.
1. Bear in Underwear (Todd H. Doodler)
I don’t know what the message of Bear in Underwear is, and that’s kind of why I find this one so fun. Somehow, “Bear and his friends were playing hide and seek…” becomes a life lesson on finding the right pair of underwear to suit your bottom. It’s a quirky tale with bright colors and underlying snark, perfect for the parent who’s tired of slogging through another rendition of Green Eggs and Ham.
2. Belly Button Book! (Sandra Boynton)
Classic singsong rhyme meets quirky subject matter in Belly Button Book!. Join a fatherly hippo figure as he explains why hippos love their belly buttons. You didn’t know that hippos have a thing for belly buttons? Of course they do. They are, in the words of our narrator, “round and cute and funny.” Plus, little ones who proudly display their navels (when summer days are sunny) will find the perfect song to sing in celebration.
3. But Not the Hippopotamus (Sandra Boynton)
Sandra Boynton makes the list again, this time with a book that caught me totally off guard the first time I read it. But Not the Hippopotamus features a lonely hippo watching from the sidelines as her friends drink juice, buy hats, and go for a jog. Just when you think the book’s about learning to accept others, you find out it’s not. C’est la vie, eh?
4. Dinosaur Kisses (David Ezra Stein)
My sister gave us Dinosaur Kisses before Arthur was even born, and we’ve been reading it to him (and loving it) ever since. Follow Dinah, a curious dinosaur who doesn’t quite know how things work, as she attempts to learn how to do a kiss the right way. In learning how to stomp, chomp, and kiss – and not to eat other creatures by accident – Dinah figures out how to navigate the new world around her.
5. Don’t Push the Button (Bill Cotter)
If there’s one surefire way to get kids to do something, it’s tell them not to do it. Don’t Push the Button plays on a toddler’s love of breaking the rules testing limits and following instructions by encouraging kids to help purple monster Larry solve a bit of a problem (one that they’ve created together, to be honest). It’s not quite as weird as the other books on this list, but it’s an interactive book with fun illustrations and a silly sense of humor.
6. I Want My Hat Back (Jon Klassen)
No one likes losing a favorite object, least of all a downtrodden bear who can’t get straight answers from anyone he meets. I Want My Hat Back teaches an important lesson: Don’t steal, or you might – well, I won’t spoil the ending. But suffice it to say that this beautifully illustrated book will hold a special place in the hearts of parents with a wry sense of humor.
7. Please, Mr. Panda (Steve Antony)
Please, Mr. Panda presents us with a panda bear on a mission to trick strangers into being polite with a box of doughnuts as bait. Along the way, he meets a penguin, a skunk, an ostrich, an orca whale, and last but not least, a lemur. You might be sensing a theme in these animals’ color schemes. Will Mr. Panda ever find someone worthy of his multicolored goodies? Find out in this (largely black-and-white) illustrated tale of manners and sweets.
8. Star Wars ABC-3PO (Calliope Glass and Caitlin Kennedy, illustrated by Katie Cook)
While Star Wars ABC-3PO isn’t so much a story as it is a collection of poems, I’m including it here because it’s delightful. Some parents use the classic alphabet song to teach their kids letters. We use George Lucas’s creations and some crafty writing from two talented ladies (yes! lady nerds!), backed up by wonderful illustrations. “A” might be for “apple” in some households. In ours, it stands for “Ackbar.”
9. We Found a Hat (Jon Klassen)
Another entry by Jon Klassen, We Found a Hat manages to combine a dry sense of humor with a sweet message of love and sacrifice – without any eye-rolling involved. It tells the tale of two turtles who both look good in a white ten-gallon hat. Only problem? There’s just one hat. When my husband and I read this one in the store, we knew we had to bring it home immediately. As with Klassen’s other work, it’s beautifully illustrated and speaks to children and adults alike.