Before you bend or break the rules of writing for children, the generally accepted strategy is to learn the established rules first. But however these authors and illustrators dreamed up these groundbreaking book ideas, they executed them brilliantly. While none of these books are new, they deserve special recognition.
#1: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2007)
I referred to this groundbreaking book in my Dare to Change Your POV post. Despite reading hundreds of books since this one, it still stands out as the most unique and unforgettable book I’ve ever read. The narrator Death alternates between dream-like fugues and his/her/its perspective on a young German girl’s penchant for stealing books. The setting is Germany in 1939, a very busy time for Death.
#2: The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus
Written by Jen Bryant; illustrated by Melissa Sweet (2014)
This book is a marvel. When I first read this biography, my surprise and delight grew with every page. The words are glorious and the multi-layered, scrapbook/collage-style artwork defies description. As someone who relied heavily on my Roget’s Thesaurus in high school, this book really, really speaks to me. I believe this pair helped usher in an exciting renaissance in children’s biographies, which writers and readers of all ages benefit from. I was also wowed by Melissa’s Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White (2016).
#3: A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever
Written and illustrated by Marla Frazee (2008)
The story is about two boys who stay with one boy’s grandparents and go to Nature camp. The writing is straightforward and rather deadpan (like the requisite postcards kids send home from camp), but the illustrations show the hysterical truth. This was the first time I saw pictures that didn’t match the text. And it makes me laugh every time I read it. This demonstrates how picture books truly are a marriage of words and pictures.
#4: The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
I remember the never-before-seen frenzy as each book in this series was released. I read them as an adult and can totally understand why kids around the world went absolutely bonkers for these magically inventive books. There’s a multitude of minor characters, a circuitous, ever-evolving plot with superfluous yet delightful details, and the most richly detailed setting I’ve ever come across – all of which STILL violate the traditionally accepted rules for middle grade. These books prove you can break the mold if you do it exceptionally well.
#5: The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch (2008)
Everything about this book is secret, from the author’s real name (pseudonym, get it?) to the snarky voice that warns readers against reading the book. Having a mysterious, doomsday-spewing voice speak directly to ME, the reader, was a relevation. And it spawned an entire bestselling series.
#6: Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman (1989)
This book was published in 1989, a very different time from the accepting environment we enjoy today. As Lacey Vorassi-Banis wrote in her June 9, 2019 interview with the author, this book “sparked a firestorm of protests, book bans, and even entered the Congressional Record.” To read the interview, click here.
#7: The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan (2011-2012)
Rick Riordan is my Demigod of writing, so any “best of” list I create is guaranteed to include at least one of his fabulous books. This is the first book I read that alternated POVS by chapter (between a pair of siblings). I like how the chapter headings list the names to erase any possible confusion. But I LOVE how you can instantly tell which sibling is narrating because the voices are so distinct. These are outstanding mentor texts for any writer seeking to alternate POVs. See also Joyce Audy Zarin’s post Rick Riordan Is a Demigod!
#8: Pigs Will be Pigs: Fun with Math and Money
Written by Amy Axelrod; illustrated by Sharon McGinley-Nally (1997)
While books to teach kids about the value of money had no doubt been around before this one was published, this inventive book dared to make learning about dollars and cents FUN and ENGAGING! What’s better than a family of hungry pigs who need to scrounge for enough money to eat out? And then need to calculate what they can afford at the restaurant? It should be a staple in classrooms and in home libraries – for as long as we retain our existing U.S. monetary system.
Now I’d like to learn from YOU! Which books make YOUR brilliantly rule-breaking lists? Please share in the comments section below.