Great children's books with challenging/rare/intricate concepts? Go!
September 14, 2018 4:48 AM   Subscribe

I was really inspired by the "question on children books with intricate illustrations". Following on- what are your favourite young children's books that cover 'difficult to describe' concepts? Examples follow...

We wonder, and wonder and wonder! My Iiniis-kid is still very young (2), but a special genre of books have really been worth the splurge, because of the challenge and enjoyment we both get out of exploring them.

At a wonderful children's book store I asked for children's books (suitable also for young ages, or to grow with) that either covered a difficult concept or that were particularly well executed so that there was a lot to notice or admire about the pages and how they came together.

The suggestions I got were amazing, and included

ZOOM , a book that is like the "powers of 10 movie",
the Book of Mistakes, which shows imaginative potential in errors,
who what where exploring the powers of inference
a Stone for Sascha history embedded in objects, reconciling time and transition
Get on Your Bike conflict, escape, compromise
Du Iz Tak understanding a language when you don't know it
Inside Outside for its exquisite execution/construction.

We have been savouring these (mixed in with the fun/funny/simpler/more straightforward books that litter every room of the house), but we have such delightful and interesting conversations especially about these books above that I was wondering if you all had similar recommendations?

From what I can see the books listed above have so much to offer, we will be playing, learning, discussing, and growing with them for a very long time to come, which makes even the hardcover books a reasonable investment (on a tight budget).

Do you have any "challenging/rare/intricate concept" children's book recommendations for us? Thanks!
posted by iiniisfree to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
The Mulberry Bird - a really remarkably well-done adoption story
posted by cnidaria at 5:04 AM on September 14, 2018

Weslandia - nonconformity
posted by RoadScholar at 5:09 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Open this Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier- very simple, but there is a lot to unpack in terms of patterns and size.

The Monster At The End Of This Book by Jon Stone illustrated by Michael Smollin- one of the fist children's books to break the fourth wall.

After the Fall by Dan Santat- the story is so great in this one, about what happened to Humpty Dumpty after he fell.

Wolves by Emily Gravett- Scary and amazing

The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett- about the Fibonacci Sequence told through Rabbit procreation.

Finally, Anastasia Higginbotham books from the Ordinary Terrible Things children's book series: Divorce Is the Worst
Death Is Stupid
Tell Me About Sex, Grandma
And her newest book: Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, are really beautiful and amazing books about tough subjects that have taught me so much (even as an adult!!)
posted by momochan at 5:35 AM on September 14, 2018

Shinsuke Yoshitake's great for this – Can I Build Another Me?, It Might Be an Apple and What Happens Next? are all lovely, albeit aimed at slightly older kids.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 5:42 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I suggest Flatland by David Sayre, which is kind of strange and hard to pin down, but is ultimately about loss. No relation (I think?) to this Flatland.
posted by cpatterson at 5:47 AM on September 14, 2018

Look for books by Mitsumasa Anno. Anno's Counting Book would be a great place to start with a 2 year old.

Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm wrote an amazing set of picture books about how sunlight powers everything on Earth: My Light, Living Sunlight, Ocean Sunlight, Buried Sunlight, and Rivers of Sunlight. The concepts are beautifully explained in a way that's understandable to a child but most adults will learn something from these books too.

Molly Bang's Picture This: How Pictures Work is a fun and fascinating book that helps you understand artwork in a different way.
posted by Redstart at 5:52 AM on September 14, 2018

At the Same Moment, Around the World by Clotilde Perrin-- geography, diversity.

100 Bugs!: A Counting Book by Kate Narita-- the best math book I've found at the kindergarten level, and the bugs are all real, anatomically detailed.

Most books by Chris Van Dusen are very detailed. If I Built a Car is fantasy but it really stimulates the imagination towards invention and creativity. It's great for that kind of reading where you ask the kids to identify and comment on stuff in the pictures.
posted by BibiRose at 6:29 AM on September 14, 2018

Zen Shorts and it’s sequel, Zen Socks!
posted by jeszac at 6:47 AM on September 14, 2018

This is more for elementary to adult, but Everyones an Aliebn When Ur an Aliebn Too is beautiful and fantastic. It looks long, but there is only a sentance or so on each page and the illustrations are phenomenal. You could read it now and it would delight you till you can read it with the kiddo.
posted by wowenthusiast at 7:08 AM on September 14, 2018

I liked What do you do with a problem? by Kobi Yamada. What it says on the tin.

Click, Clack, Moo is an amusing introduction to labor disputes. My kid’s kindergarten teacher assigned that one during last year’s teacher strikes, and I thought, oh you sneaky avatar of magnificence.

When I read The Phantom Tollbooth to my kid I realized that it’s basically a whimsical kid’s version of CP Snow’s The Two Cultures. I just did a little googling and it turns out that’s not an accident.
posted by eirias at 7:10 AM on September 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm going to put in a plug for The Giving Tree. (Not for now, for when your kid is older.) A lot of people hate this book and if you've read it, you know why. But if you haven't read it you probably should. It's not a heartwarming story about the value of giving (or a failed attempt at one.) It's an unsettling story that makes you think about giving and taking without telling you exactly what you're supposed to think. Is the tree a role model or a cautionary example? You decide.
posted by Redstart at 7:48 AM on September 14, 2018

We happened across La Mariposa at the library and I'm so glad it exists. The family is homeless (per US Federal definitions: the father is a migrant farmworker and they're living in a tent) and speaks Spanish, and their young son starts at an English-language school where most of the children seem to have homes and adequate clothing and so on, and the story really illustrates the isolation and incomprehension of not knowing what anyone else is saying or even what's supposed to be happening, while also showing the economic disparities between the main character and his classmates.
posted by teremala at 7:54 AM on September 14, 2018

I used to love reading the Max Stravinsky books by Maria Kalman with my kids. They definitely defied explanation and did a good job of mixing urbane sophistication with childlike wonder. And an appreciation for poetry.

Chris Raschka's books were great too. "Charlie Parker Played Bebop" was the best capture of jazz improv into a kid's picture book. He also wrote "Happy to be Nappy" which my youngest daughter loved. It was hard to find books with protagonists that looked like her and understood her hair challenges.
posted by cross_impact at 8:17 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Not a book, but this web app could teach game theory to a 6 year old.
posted by bbqturtle at 8:40 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

How Much Is a Million? by David M Schwartz.

Feelings, by Aliki.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:58 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg & Fiona Smith has a great take on the delicate question of how is babby formed. It’s not gendered, it has lovely bright illustrations, and it’s anatomically correct but also totally appropriate for young kids.

For cultural diversity, Children Just Like Me, from UNICEF, asks kids around the world the same set of questions and is nicely laid out. This is what my family looks like, this is what my school looks like, this is my favorite food, etc. (Spoiler: it’s pizza! It’s always pizza.) Endlessly fascinating & straightforward.

Under Water / Under Earth, by Aleksandra Mizielinska & Daniel Mizielinski, has great illustrations and a fun design. Informative stuff about geology, critters, and manmade structures--also just fun to flip through.

Seasons by Blexbolex is flat-out gorgeous, and worth rereading to see how all the prints were made (bits of pictures are reused multiple times).
posted by miles per flower at 9:00 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Infinity and Me
posted by raspberrE at 10:16 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Dave Eggars came out with a children's book last year called Her Right Foot. It's about the Statue of Liberty, the foundation of the United States, and the concept of being welcoming to immigrants. The illustrations are incredible, and it is a really approachable way to think about a very big topic.

He has a new one that just came out What Can a Citizen Do? that I have not read yet.
posted by radioamy at 10:55 AM on September 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am Henry Finch by Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwartz is an amazing book about individualism and courage, with a bit of Descartes and Darwin thrown in for good measure!
posted by featherboa at 11:12 AM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I second Weslandia and note it is also about staple crops and civilizations.
posted by azalea_chant at 12:04 PM on September 14, 2018

Maybe not quite as existential as some of the others here, but we are currently enjoying "That's a Possibility!", which is an engaging introduction to probability.

I second "At the Same Moment, Around the World", which introduces geographic diversity and time zones, all at once. And it's beautifully illustrated.

P.S. I just put a bunch of these books on hold at my local library :)
posted by telepanda at 12:36 PM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

You might like The Book with no Pictures
posted by sianifach at 1:49 PM on September 14, 2018

I love The Black Book of Colors, which introduces kids to the concept of experiencing the world without sight.
posted by scalar_implicature at 5:20 PM on September 14, 2018

Uno's Garden by Australian author Graeme Base. The story features themes of environmental degradation, conservation of nature and habitat, and extinction. And it's just glorious to look at.
posted by h00py at 6:22 PM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

All of Herve Tullet is great for this.
posted by aetg at 8:05 PM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Cry Heart, But Never Break by Glen Ringtved. Profound exploration of the relationship between life, death, loss, grief, and joy.
posted by t0astie at 11:42 PM on September 14, 2018

Shaun Tan's books are incredibly beautiful. The Arrival is probably too old for a 2-year-old, but the illustrations are so beautiful (though colorless) that there still might be something there.
posted by taltalim at 8:44 AM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

We really love The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson which is about the permanence of the memory of impermanent things.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 1:04 PM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am almost NEVER for books without words, yet The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett touches me in a place that is indescribable. I didn't realize at first that while it seems the older woman is doing the girl a favor, it's the other way around--notice the picture of the woman's deceased husband in the garage.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:23 PM on September 16, 2018

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