Curious Pages is a blog that scans and posts strange and wonderful children’s books that time forgot. Browsing through its archive, we were reminded of just how weird kids’ books could be — in a good way this time. We caught up with the site’s editors to hear what sparked the idea, and find out their favorite inappropriate and incredible books for kids young and old.
You bill yourselves as “Recommended Inappropriate Books for Kids” — which rules. How did the blog come about?
Lane Smith: So many of the kid book sites out there are either overly earnest, overly protective of impressionable young minds or just flat out self promotional. We wanted to create a list of cool, subversive books. We also enjoy parodying those other sites.
Bob Shea: It was Lane’s idea, which I thought was really funny. He has such a huge library of these strange titles; it’s the perfect thing to share online. Not as good as tweeting what we have for breakfast, or reposting YouTube videos of a cat playing the piano, but it seems to work for us.
You guys celebrate “the offbeat, the abstract, the unusual, the surreal, the macabre, the inappropriate, the subversive and the funky.” What were some of the books that sparked these criteria?
BS: I like any book that I can’t believe actually got published. Like Grammar Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf. It’s a great book, but it looks like he dashed it off on the train ride to see his publisher. I also like foreign books that look like they came from space. Like the Danish book Den Rode Kuffert (The Red Suitcase) by Elin Bing. Not in an “oh, it’s foreign so it’s inherently funny” kind of way, but in that the sensibility is so much different than English titles.
LS: I like Struwwelpeter by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann. Written in 1845, it contains tales like “The Dreadful Story about Harriet and the Matches.” These tales do not end well.
What’s your favorite illustration that you’ve posted?
LS: I’m partial to the illustration of the Tin Woodman in Arnost Karasek’s version of The Wizard of Oz (1962). As we say on the site: Ever wonder what the Tin Woodman would look like if rendered by Paul Klee?
BS: I always like Lane’s posts better. He posted Puff by William Wondriska and I was really jealous. I didn’t speak to Lane for a month and I demanded (via email since we weren’t speaking) that he give me credit for posting it. I may have made most of that up, but it’s a great book.
And the strangest, coolest book that you wish more people had heard of?
LN: I’d have to go with A Head for Happy (1931). For some reason there are a number of children’s books that feature headless characters. This one is probably my favorite for the surreal story but also the delicate and beautiful pictures by Helen Sewell.
And without further ado, here’s Curious Pages’ 10 Awesome and Inappropriate Books for Kids.
1. Struwwelpeter by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann
2. The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey
3. A Head For Happy by Helen Sewell
4. Fables You Shouldn’t Pay Any Attention To by Florence Parry Heide & Sylvia Worth Van Clief and Victoria Chess
5. I Know an Old Lady by Rose Bonne, Alan Mills and Abner Graboff
6. How to Make an Earthquake by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson
7. Grammar Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf
8. The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown and Remy Charlip
9. The Bomb and the General by Dr. Umberto Eco and Eugenio Carmi
10. Baby, Mix Me a Drink by Lisa Brown