What are the most inappropriate children's books?

Lately, I've been hearing from a lot of parents looking for ways to sneak through story time: to trick their kids into picking the smaller books, to skip a page here and there, or to get kids to read books to each other. These strategies can certainly help get you through 16 straight days of your child's new favorite book. But on night 17, you need to think bigger. 

Start buying inappropriate children's books. 

The following two books (and one coloring book) offer relief to parents who are strung out on Goodnight Moon but want the snuggles that come with it. 

This all assumes that you've already memorized Go the F*ck to Sleep and need some new material, or that your child is now old enough to have memorized it and it reciting it in grocery store checkouts. But if you haven't already picked up that gem of a book--or listened to Samuel L. Jackson's recorded version--start there and bookmark the following suggestions for a later date.

A board book for grown-ups: Richard Betts'  The Complete Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert .

A board book for grown-ups: Richard Betts' The Complete Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert.

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All My Friends Are Dead

"All my friends are dead."
"All my friends are dead."
"Most of my friends are dead."

A dinosaur, a dodo, and an octogenarian contemplate mortality. So begins Avery Monsen and Jory John's All My Friends Are Dead, which hails itself as "both the saddest funny book and the funniest sad book you'll ever read."

Monsen and John don't limit themselves to death, but also document isolation, obsolescence, and decay with a mime ("None of my friends will speak to me"), a mixtape ("All of my friends are obsolete"), and a gallon of milk ("All my friends expired on Tuesday"). 

Parents might be horrified while their child laughs along at the grim reaper, the frenemy end-table or the chicken whose friends are Kentucky-fried. But that's sort of the point. The great appeal of this book is that it permits kids and adults to wade into darkly comic territory. 

Unicorns Are Jerks

Let's imagine that your child has learned how to use the remotes and has discovered a new favorite Netflix offering. And let's further discover that your child, who also knows how to navigate to unboxing videos on YouTube, can name every piece of merchandise affiliated with that show. 

If your child's coloring books offer no escape from the cloying, repetitive language of the shows that haunt your dreams, you might want to buy Theo Nicole Lorenz's Unicorns Are Jerks. Lorenz, a self-professed "aspiring coloring book tycoon," uses this small volume to present "the cold, hard, sparkly truth" about the beloved magical beasts. And she delivers. 

Many of the coloring pages present simple facts. You may not have paused to consider that a unicorn will use all of your shampoo, but with that majestic mane and tail, how could it not? If a unicorn is roughly the size of a horse, of course that 1,000-pound beast is going to steal your leftovers. Again, because of its size, any unicorn borrowing your clothes is going to stretch them out. 

But even if you're already well-versed in unicorn facts, there's still a message in this book for you. Lorenz chides unicorns for texting during movie, for not being good listeners, and for hogging the ball pit. Lorenz's book is more mirror than coloring book. So many kids' books remind children to be nice. But this one reminds their parents to be good people themselves. It'll be hard not replace the toilet roll after you and your child color that page. 

The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert

Richard Betts' The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert is not marketing wine to children. But Betts is using a children's genre to express an adult concept. 

Unlike the metaphorical mirror of Lorenz's creation, Betts offer an actual mirror (of kid-safe plastic) to make a simple point about wine. "What's a good wine?" he asks. "And who decides that?" The mirror holds the answer: "You! And only you." Betts continues: "No one decides what you are going to have for dinner, what's your favorite ice cream, and what flavor fluoride you take at the dentist, so why would you let someone else tell you what to drink? Don't do that. Instead, trust your palate and then educate it so that it serves you better." 

The rest of the book is dedicated to that education. Betts takes readers through three main categories (fruit, wood, earth), punctuating them with scratch-and-sniff examples to help them know what to sniff for in front of their next glass. Or, more accurately, their current glass, as Betts' recommends mixing story hour with happy hour.

The book is a helpful primer for adults who are intimidated by the vocabulary commonly used to explain wine. But it's also a great primer for kids, who can read along as their parents learn and practice a new skill. Unlike much larger and text-focused how-to books, Betts' book lets kids see their parents consulting a book in order to learn something new. What a wonderful thing to teach our children. And hearing them say "Sangiovese" is pretty sweet too.