Going through the slush pile a few weeks ago, I came across an artist who layers photographs and clipart pieces to create ethereal digital collage artwork. I wish I could show them to you, but unfortunately the artist doesn’t have a website. While the project wasn’t right for Houghton Mifflin, the illustrations were beautiful, and for me, immediately brought to mind the song used in this video:
(The song is Strange Love by Little Annie, and it’s eerie, and a little weird, and I love it. If you want to hear the whole song, click here, though I have to warn you that the typewritten lyrics on the YouTube video are a little off.)
I could envision full-color, full-bleed pictures adding their surreal quality to the already haunting lyrics. Of course, with the heavy, sexy lyrics and accompanying illustrations, this picture book is more appropriate for adults than children, and that thought made me consider the concept of picture books intended for adults as a whole.
The picture book that immediately came to mind was Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence (9780877017882, $19.95, Chronicle) by Nick Bantock. There are four books in this series that is a mysterious love story between two people named Griffin and Sabine, spanning continents and time continuums. Each book contains gorgeous hand-designed postcards and letters between the two lovers as they unravel the mystery of their romantic communication. Perfect for fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, though not quite as dark.
Speaking of Audrey Niffenegger, she has created several picture books for adults: The Adventuress (9780810970526, $27.95, Abrams), The Night Bookmobile (9780810996175, $19.95, Abrams), and The Three Incestuous Sisters (9780810959279, $27.95, Abrams). In keeping with the classic Audrey Niffenegger style, these picture books are dark and fantastical while exploring complex emotions of primarily female characters.
Not all picture books intended for adults are as serious as these. Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, had quite the naughty side. In addition to writing beloved children’s books, Dr. Seuss was also a political cartoonist during World War II; his cartoons have been collected in Dr. Seuss Goes to War (9781565847040, $19.95, Perseus). He also wrote several picture books that are much more adult-themed in nature, including You’re Only Old Once!: A Book for Obsolete Children (9780394551906, $17.99, Random House), detailing the hilarious medical checkup one of a certain age might go through, and Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History’s Barest Family (out-of-print), a book featuring seven naked ladies romping through tongue-in-cheek explanations of common idioms. Then, of course, there are other Dr. Seuss classics that are favorites to give to adults upon certain graduations and employment transitions, such as Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (9780679805274, $17.99, Random House).
Other children’s books are often given between adults for various holidays. Two of my favorites make perfect Valentine’s Day presents for both friends and loved ones: I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast (9780395071762, $6.95, Houghton Mifflin) and A Friend is Someone Who Likes You by Joan Walsh Anglund (9780152296780, $9.95, Houghton Mifflin). Both of these offer adorable illustrations accompanying sweet, child-like text celebrating like, love, and friendship. Though those were published as children’s books, their full value is understood more by adults, I think, who can better appreciate the nuances of both text and illustration.
This is true for many other children’s picture books, whose humor, while appealing to children, is of a particularly cheeky, sarcastic, implied, or ironic nature that is greatly enjoyed by adults. Some of my personal favorites catering to the dual audience are the Knuffle Bunny trilogy, the Pigeon books, and the Elephant & Piggie series created by Mo Willems. A classic of this genre is The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (9780670844876, $17.99, Viking/Penguin), hilarious retellings of classic fairy tales by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Lane Smith is quite the connoisseur of this type of work, both by discussing children’s books in an adult way on his blog Curious Pages, and by creating books of this nature, such as the recent release It’s a Book (9781596436060, $12.99, Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan), a book about the introduction of a hard copy book in a digital age.
It’s a Book walks that fine line between being really intended for an adult audience but being published in a children’s market. There are many picture books published in this vein, such as All My Friends Are Dead (thanks to A. Neff for this!) by Avery Monsen and Jory John (9780811874557, $9.95, Chronicle), just published in June, about all the people, animals, and objects who have deceased friends. I can’t think of a single friend who wouldn’t snort with laughter at this snarky book.
What are some of your favorite picture books?
Stay tuned for Part II!